Work As Play? How do we move from play →inclusion →performance through fort building?

Which parts of your work feels like play?

When do you feel capable, free to decide, change directions, most open to new ideas, authentic?

The answer many times becomes a quick, “work is not for PLAY”.

Play is that kind of risk and hard work for many people, as they have to climb over a whole mountain of guilt, judgment, shame, and long-held beliefs about productivity and the seriousness of work to even imagine it as a driver for innovative change.

What if we considered the “soft skills” that drive innovation, productivity, and what if we said that play is the catalyst to igniting these skills while developing and growing them?

Play moves us to change, and one of the ways we can use play is to ignite change in how we consider others’ perspectives and how we see our own strengths and abilities.

Sometimes we need to go backward to go forwards. Often we are talking about moving forward without considering that there are skills left uncovered every time we move forward without considering where people have been or where they are coming from.

If “teams that operate in an inclusive culture outperform their peers by a staggering 80 percent” then inclusion and employee engagement has a direct impact results. Why? Because inclusive cultures lay down the foundation for innovation.

But how do we get from play to inclusion to performance?


The answer lies in creating psychological safety. In a Google-led study called Project Aristotle Google found that psychological safety — the ability for “team members to feel safe and vulnerable in front of each other” — was the number one factor that drove the success of its most effective teams.

But let’s go back to the playground for a moment… How did we create safe spaces as children? Let’s take fort building as an example:

My favorite was using couch cushions and blankets. My grandparents had the best sectional, orange, and prickly like it was made from wool. It was nonfunctional for sitting on but the BEST FOR FORTS!

The other great thing was that this couch was in the basement — so no adults could watch. I would create these forts with everything I could find in the basement; my grandfather’s shoehorn, blankets, and sheets from the spare room. I would prop them up with ashtray stands and the broom from the laundry room. Then the best — once it was all done, just lay on your back inside and enjoy the freedom, as well as feelings of ownership and safety.

The next step to excellent fort building was touring someone else through the fort — showing off what you had built and all the nuances of the space. Sharing your creation with someone who could see or connect with your vision, “here is my bedroom, the kitchen, this is where the sun comes in and this is the secret exit in case of intruders.”

But these forts — they come in all shapes and sizes, and they provided this safety net. People still build them all the time as adults; they just don’t realize it.

It is what good companies create for their workers — a fort to feel safe, heard, and included. To build spaces where everyone is allowed to build, create, and fail, bring all of their different materials (life experiences, beliefs, values, and skills to space and build in a way that is for them and others).

People are driven to belong and be a part of something bigger than themselves, but building empathic connections to the different ways we build our forts comes first.

When we can help and organizations to see that in play we have great strength, ideas, and purpose, then we can dig into the reasons why and how your organization deals with the following:

  • Change Management
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Communication
  • Productivity
  • Engagement
  • Mental and Physical Health
  • Inclusion
  • Loyalty
  • Retention

Once we can recognize and reconstruct those foundational pieces, we can help construct a business that grows and thrives sustainably.

A business that can play in both challenging times and in successful times will continue to succeed because they have built and learned fundamentally that new solutions, ways of doing, and engaging come from trust and vulnerability.

It is time to do things in a way no one has considered and build with materials no one has visibly brought to the table before.

You see, without a diversity of people, perspectives, and skills, we stay relatively stagnant; we manage change instead of breaking out of set traditions and patterns. We don’t innovate.

We must start by building trust because there is no safety without trust, and without safety, there is no play, and without play, there is no creativity and innovation.

If we do not feel safe, we will build all kinds of forts to protect ourselves, keep others out, and hide vs being excited to invite others to play within our safe space.

We need to find out about the people we work with and for so that we know their “fort building” stories because that is where we will find some of their greatest strengths, skills and authenticity.

Let’s move from “why are you building a fort!???” to “why would you build a fort like that”?

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