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Gamification and Play in training: why it pays to know that it isn’t just for children

A diverse audience listening to a diverse panel – that is exactly how we like to do things here at Client Talk. Our webinar on Gamification and Play brought together an actor, a former management consultant and a couple of coaches. Our audience had a similarly diverse range of interests and backgrounds. They were all united by a common theme, that training doesn’t have to be boring to work. Here we uncover how, by tapping into the power of play, we are better able to solve some of the more complex problems facing professional services firms today.


What is play?


Words matter, as we shall see when we start to look at some of the challenges of play. Play is not what we might initially assume when we hear the word. At its heart, play is about exploring new ways of being and new possibilities. It is about experimenting. The neuroscientist Andrew Huberman tells us that play is crucial for our development; not only is it important for children, but it is also important for adults. He describes play as “the fundamental portal to plasticity”. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself. That can happen throughout our lifetimes. It's how we can learn new things.


We can perhaps imagine the play as being on a spectrum with seriousness. On one side we have fun and on the other side, we have serious endeavours (like work). Naturally, we might place children on the silly, fun side, and adults on the other. However, that view can block creativity and prevent individuals from unleashing the power of play. Understanding where you are on that spectrum can also be really insightful. It can provide a window into how open you are to fail and experiment.


In your firm, your professionals will be found at different places on the spectrum. Perhaps individuals will be where you expect, perhaps they won't. On our webinar we took a poll of the audience and, as expected, there was a range there too. We are often asked, in connection with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®: "How do lawyers buy into that?" - unmasking an assumption that all lawyers are serious and therefore have forgotten how to play. That is probably true of some, just as it is true for some in all groups.


If play is associated in an adult’s mind with children, it is easy to see how, in order to introduce play and gamification in a work setting, words matter.


What can play be used for?


In 2023, Harvard Business Review discussed a KPMG cross-selling case study which showed that gamified training delivers results. Christian Gossan, the architect of that game, spoke to us about the challenge that KPMG faced: large numbers of people needing to understand vast service offerings in order to be able to identify opportunities with and for clients. The solutions that were on the table were either boring or expensive. Turning that on its head enabled them to run a pilot for a fun and scalable solution.


What are some of the challenges?

Language


We have already mentioned that one of the problems of incorporating play and gamification in the workplace is language. All of our speakers start off with the problem or challenge, that they are brought in to solve. For coaches, the focus is almost always to achieve some sort of behavioural change. Unlocking new ways of being. Behavioural experiments, giving it a go, not being afraid to make mistakes – all of this sits very easily within the definition of play – particularly as many aspects of play sit within experiential learning (perhaps itself a better label for play and gamification).


Culture


At KPMG, in order to scale they had to think about the cultural aspects, and getting the right team in place at the design stage was critical. Global projects always require cultural sensitivity and developing experiential learning should be no different. We have consultants who have deep expertise working in multicultural environments and bring that knowledge in when working on global projects, just as Christian explained he had done on our webinar.


Dealing with sceptics


Many people believe that play is for children and this can make them sceptical. Often this comes back to what they understand by play. However, it also means that getting people into flow in sessions using play and experimentation is really important. In LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops, this is achieved by making sure that the people who really don’t think that they can do it are quickly able to see that they can. Those who think they aren’t going to draw anything from it are also quickly shown that there is more to LSP than merely playing with bricks. A similar approach is needed with constellations work, role play and improvisation.


People need to have psychological permission to play. They need to feel safe to fail. These things create the right environment to enable play. They can be seen as a different element of culture - firm culture. Co-creation and all of the other benefits of play can only emerge from a place of safety.


What other elements are needed?


Teresa Leyman described some of the fundamental elements of what is needed for play and playfulness: “Engagement, accessibility and understanding”. She believes in the power of play to bring people together. To co-create.


“ in order to solve these big complex problems, we need to bring people together. And in order to create those safe environments, taking more of a playful way”.

For Teresa, there is yet no global definition of play, but she thinks it is something that is emerging. She thinks “We need to reclaim the words a little bit." She thinks play and playfulness should just be the norm. “Something that you use in context, and in coaching fields, in service, for whatever it is your time to do. So it just becomes something that's accessible, you're equipped to ignite it and step into there freely. And it's credible”. She noted that Graham Lee, in his work, shares that people that play together, stay together. And noted the linkages with psychological safety, creation, and co-creation. We see this at Client Talk when we bring people together to experiment and learn together in different ways.


Other words could be used for play, words such as experimentation, exploration, and inviting, “So we experiment, how can we kick this around a little bit, to look at it from all different angles, and straight away we'll move into more playful states, which is allowing you to be able to step back, get out of the head, almost get out of the emotions, the stress that might be hijacking us, into a safe space where you can actually look at whatever the thing is, and start to play with it and tackle it with a different way of being.”


Experiential learning


We also heard from Callum, who spoke about the difference between real play and roleplay. Real play is contained within roleplay, with roleplay originating from something called psychodrama: bringing drama to help individuals and groups explore their truth. Callum, as a trained coach and actor, very much brings theatre into the world of work.


He explained in psychodrama “you're creating a safe barrier to experiment, to play with ideas where there are no consequences for you in the in the bigger world. So in essence, it's all encompassed within experiential learning.”


Callum underlined the importance of having the right environment. He explained that part of this is giving ourselves permission to get things wrong. "Because in the corporate world, we're so obsessed with getting something right". We have written before about how important this is for growth.


You can watch the whole webinar again on our You Tube Channel:


To find out how we can introduce play into your workshops, get in touch.

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