When we were children we used to love playing.  Playing was how we learnt and grew as we progressed through childhood.

I loved playing sport, riding my BMX, and playing pretend.    I loved playing with other kids, I loved learning and I loved being active.  I loved dreaming and playing in the creek in the back of my house, and most of all I loved being free.  These experiences have shaped me in to who I am now.

As kids we play, but as adults we feel guilty if we play.  The little voice in our head either says its not ok to play or I don’t deserve to play.    Our time should be better spent on productive activities, getting things done or other activities.

In my experience high performing teams and individuals continue to “play” in adult life.  They see work as play, life as play and parenting as play.  They choose to do work they love and are passionate about, and they do things in life they enjoy.   They are driven by satisfaction and self-actualising activities that allow them to learn, grow and improve.

High performers “play with purpose”.  They create environments, situations and interactions that allow them to play in working towards a desired outcome, objective or improvement in a key area.  This play drives a high performance approach to improvement and growth.

When we play with a purpose, we:

  • Love what we do;
  • Look to learn and improve;
  • Play as a team embracing diversity, different strengths and approaches to tackling challenges and opportunities;
  • Maintain an open mind;
  • Look to challenge ourselves and others; and
  • Work for satisfaction

Permission to play in any environment comes from leaders in the work place, parents at home, teachers at school and coaches at sport.  The role of the leader is to create an physiological safe environment where others can play and ensure that we are all playing the same game together where we learn, grow and achieve as one team.  This requires a focus on development of the individual or team over winning and requires patience not to manage and control every situation or interaction.  This is difficult to achieve because we have been conditioned to manage and control as leaders which can lead us to having a fixed mindset in the approach towards tasks and activities with our team.  Empowering and trusting is harder as it requires us to sit back and let others play knowing mistakes can be made and the time to arrive at an outcome can take longer given that participants  and team members need to own the process.

Creating the right environment for this to occur is the key ingredient for this to occur.  Leaders, parents, teachers or coaches either create a growth or a fixed mindset environment.   Key attributes to each of these environments include:

Encouraging Play (Growth Mindset)

  • We role model playful behaviors ourselves by embracing a growth mindset;
  • We let others make decisions for themselves within clear boundaries and parameters;
  • We encourage enjoyment and learning with a focus on development;
  • We describe what success looks like and be clear on what our vision and aspirational goals are;
  • We set high standards in term of “effort” related aspects of performance;
  • We are supportive when others make mistakes and encourage the opportunity to learn;
  • We never judge or criticise but focus on what we can do to support;
  • We emphasise that people have choices and that the response is more important than the event or situation we find ourselves in; and
  • We smile, enjoy the journey and we are calm and measured.

Conditioning (Fixed Mindset)

  • We stress and worry about what others think expecting others to do the same;
  • We are perfectionistic, controlling or excessively driven by extrinsic factors;
  • We are critical and/or judgmental;
  • We pick favorites and allow shortcuts that don’t drive the right constructive outcomes;
  • We point out faults and mistakes;
  • We blame or make excuses rather than choose better responses;
  • We get angry, upset or emotional making others feel unsafe; and
  • We talk negatively about others in front of staff or children.

Learning the play again is an important part of individual and team development.  This also means we need to reconnect with our inner child around what we enjoyed when we were young and create an environment as leaders for our team where we get back to loving to learn and grow.  This requires intentional focus as leaders to create the environment for play with a purpose that develops all involved.