Contrary to popular belief, play and work are not mutually exclusive!
There is a growing body of research suggesting happier people work harder. A playful workplace helps draw new talent, relieve stress, increase motivation, and build relationships with coworkers. Furthermore, as our relationships inside and outside of the office become increasingly mediated by devices, they can lack the trace social elements that create rapport and camaraderie in the workplace over time -- eye contact, body language, and unhurried conversation.
I suggest an unorthodox remedy: Play more games.
Why games? Games have the power to undercut interpersonal inertia, facilitate shared experiences, and incentivize your employees to cross the social boundaries that form so easily in the workplace. The strength of games as motivators lies in their ability to tap into our social natures and harness powerful psychological factors -- such as the desire to share, to collaborate, to compete, and to create -- to a playful end.
Here is a list game ideas of from the game-smiths at Waxwing Puzzle Company in Chicago. They are engaging, inexpensive, thoroughly fun, and guaranteed to bring a little constructive play to your office:
Binder Clip Tag
You don't need a large budget to build camaraderie in the workplace -- sometimes all you need is a simple office binder clip. The objective of this game is to pin a single binder clip on a coworker without the coworker in question noticing. If you succeed, your hapless victim is left to find out they have been clipped the next time they brush a hand through their hair or dig for their pen in their pocket. Then the hunted becomes the hunter and the once-victim is tasked with passing the binder clip on to another coworker in the same sneaky fashion it passed to him or her. (Strategy tip: baggy clothing is a disadvantage as is not having eyes in the back of your head.)
If you want to raise the stakes of the game, set a wager on it. Whoever leaves with the binder clip on them at the end of the day buys the next round of drinks.
Word of warning: this game is difficult to stop playing. Head on a swivel!
This is an office-safe riff on the classic game Assassin. To begin, one person must assign each player a target from among the other players. All players should be linked in a chain, for example: Player A is hunting Player B, Player B is hunting Player C, and so forth. All players receive the name of their target on a piece of paper.
When the game begins players must take up their weapon of choice (a smartphone or camera), find their target, and take a picture of him or her. (Note: Photos from behind don't count, but should you find yourself walking behind your unfortunate target, we suggest saying their name. That usually does the trick.)
When a player successfully makes a "hit" the hitter shows the photo to the hittee. The newly eliminated player then relinquishes to their pursuer the identity of the target they'd been assigned. For example, if Player A takes a photo of Player B, Player B gives Player A the slip of paper with Player C's name on it. Then the game continues until there is only one player left. The game can take hours, days, or event weeks!
Secret Mission of the Day
Nothing builds esprit de corps like a little playful deception -- enter Secret Mission of the Day. As the name would indicate, Secret Mission of the Day is about assigning secret missions to your coworkers that they must accomplish over the course of the day.
Here are a few example missions to get you started:
1. One person receives a note that says: "Choose five outrageous lies about yourself and tell them to as many people as possible today." (For example: "Bon Jovi is my grandfather", "I invented Scrabble", or "I was once on a scrubbed moon launch".) The other players receive notes that say: "Someone is going to tell five outrageous lies about themselves today. You win if you can name him/her by the end of the day."
2. One person, let's call him Bob, receives a note that says: "You have no mission today. Get some work done!" The other players all receive notes that say: "Steal something from Bob's desk today" and are told they are the only ones to receive that specific mission. Bob wins if he gets wise to what is going on or catches anyone red-handed.
3. This mission involves players and non-players in a meeting setting. The players are each assigned a word that is somewhat awkward to fit into a sentence, for instance, "Sasquatch", "Formaldehyde", or "Fungus". The task of each player is to fit that word into a sentence five times during a meeting in which both players and non-players are present. The winner is the player who can use the word in a sentence five times without any of the non-players noticing or remarking on it.
Let's be honest, at one point or another we've all wanted to be able to disappear stealthily and Ninja-like in the blink of an eye or the turn of a head. Well, here is your chance to practice. The objective of in the Ninja Game is to vanish at unexpected moments -- the more unexpected the moment and thorough the vanishing act, the better. For example, imagine you and a coworker are walking down a hall past a bank of elevators. While your coworker is droning on about the TPS report he has to file, you slip silently into the elevator as the door slides shut. If your coworker does a double take, you win.
Office Treasure Hunt
Your office treasure hunt doesn't need to be on the scale of Goldman Sach's recent "Midnight Madness" to be a memorable experience, unless of course you can foot the $270,000 price tag -- then I'd say go for it. If that doesn't describe your small business, here are a few tips for creating fun, inexpensive office treasure hunts:
• Make a "Clue Committee": Round up a team of creative folks to take the treasure hunt under their wing and set them free to think outside the box. Give them a small budget for after-hours Happy Hour brainstorming.
• Keep it Simple: Treasure hunts have two basic ingredients: clues and the locations where they are hidden. Stick to these two categories to give some direction to your brainstorming.
• Variety is the Spice of Life: Build variety into your clues. Here are a few ideas to throw into the hopper:
o Puzzles and ciphers.
o Physical challenges.
o Creative tasks.
o Hidden objects in the office.
o Timed challenges.
o Subjective questions.
o Social tasks to get teams to interact with one another.
• Location, Location, Location: Half of the fun of a good treasure hunt is finding clues hidden in creative locations. Do you have rooftop access? You're going to want to put a clue up there. Is the boss up for hiding a clue in his or her office? Go for it. Do you have a drop ceiling in the office? Slide away a ceiling tile and put a clue above it. You could even hide something in some nook or cranny of the company intranet. Get creative!