Looking for a Ticket to Higher Engagement? Try some Collective Fun!

Submitted by Raising the Village on July 23, 2012 - 9:39am
Bringing play to working groups

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinctions between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working and playing.”

L.P. Jacks, Education Through Recreation.

Communities and organizations can sustain their working together efforts with this type of blurred movement between work and play. In fact, our partnership, Raising the Village Consulting, started in the realm of fun. We (Tammy and Tracy) met at a women’s kayaking and cycling course and while dodging (or aiming for) mud puddles and navigating waves in the pouring rain, we found our combined commitment to creative group processes. After co-authoring our book Raising the Village, we quickly discovered that we were NOT the only ones on the pursuit for more creative interaction, fun and engagement in communities. The biggest request we have received since the book is for MORE ways to engage groups and more ways to facilitate creative processes that hold meaning.

When it comes to participatory methods we’ve used a slew of creative processes (and honestly, not always successfully) such as:  

  • Collaging exercises or play-dough to create vision statements
  • Blocks to discuss the difference between collaboration and cooperation
  • Graphic recording to keep people’s attention and open up the right side of the brain 
  • Balls to signal when it is someone else's turn to share/talk on an agenda (keeps people awake and on their toes too)
  • Champagne toasts to create mission statements
  • Strategic plan scavenger hunts around town
  • Comedic comedy clips or cartoons to bring issues alive in an indirect way

Through any process we bring our humour and let our quirks shine. We certainly admit to when an activity “bombs” or  doesn’t quite land which brings an authenticity that keeps things light and real (and boy does that help when dealing with complex issues)! For example, one time we facilitated a creative visualization around moving through obstacles and challenges. People seemed very reflective during this but when it came time to share stories the room was more silent than expressive. In hindsight, people weren’t yet ready to share intimate details and stories with a room of people they did not know. We adjusted on the fly and turned the opportunity into a dialogue about obstacles in general instead of sharing stories. During a similar workshop the following week we “warmed” the climate first by playing an “obstacle bingo” game which was a light and perhaps safer way to explore the challenges that face collaborative work. After the tone was set, deeper stories were spontaneously shared in small groups with expression aplenty.

Now creativity, fun and group process is not all about gimmicks, role plays and props (although it certainly can be). It is also about how people approach one another and work together. It can be your ticket to higher participation, maximized engagement, expanded collective thinking and meaningful action.

 “Mark Beeman, PhD, at Northwestern University, found that people have an easier time solving a puzzle after watching a short comedy clip. Having fun, perhaps by easing tension, may facilitate neuronal connections that are helpful for greater mental flexibility and creativity. In another brain imaging study, Dr. Beeman found that activation of pleasure centers in the brain predicted successful puzzle-solving. These findings suggest that well-being helps us think more creatively and could potentially help us resolve challenging situations.”

                                                 Spirituality & Health, May-June 2011 ~ Emma Seppala  

 The benefits of using creative group process are massive. We have seen firsthand how taking a playful approach together can lead to: 

  • Extraordinary fuller dialogue that captures many voices
  • Engaged WHOLE brain activity (the left and right)
  • The spirit of play – which is key to innovation.
  • Increased shared experience and co-created meaning
  • Less daunting complexity and increased creative solutions
  • A spirit of celebration and “can do” or “we” type of attitude
  • Enriched relationships (and often a shared leadership/ownership)
  • Expanded and reframed challenges 

Creative group process can instigate an environment of fun, but it will be different for everyone.  It’s important to know your group and know your own leadership style so that you can pick the processes that will 1) work for you and 2) STRETCH but not hinder your engagement with others. A bit of discomfort and a bit of a stretch is good, but if you push too far, people may put up walls that no creative process is getting through. So do match the leader and the situation so that creativity has the ground to flourish. Meet people where they are, add a dash of fun and grab your ticket into higher participation infused with a collective smile.

For more ideas and resources on creative group process visit our website www.raisingthevillage and watch for our soon to be released book that is busting with 60 group activities,

Village Raising. Learn, Think, Innovate & Act Together. Engaging Activities for Group Leaders .

What about you?

  •  Where does your distinction lie between work and play? How are the two combined?
  • What participatory methods have you used that bring a sense of collective fun?
  • How do you resolve challenging situations in groups?
  • Where is your comfort zone with participating in or facilitating creative group process? What benefits are there to stepping out of this comfort zone? What benefits are there to respect people’s different boundaries around participation?