Play can push you out of your comfort zone...into somewhere better

Being safely encouraged out of your comfort zone can be used to your advantage. Why the use of play at work can be so empowering.

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I talk a lot about the benefits of play at work for staff wellbeing, but I want to offer a different angle in this article; discomfort, in small doses, can be good for you!

Acknowledging Discomfort

Over the years of facilitating play & creativity-based workshops, I have noticed a pattern to the flow of the session.  At the outset of our playful Team building/staff wellbeing workshops there is some trepidation, some awkwardness. This is true for the beginning of any workshops,  but with the prospect of play at work, this is more pronounced. 

In a social and workplace culture which dreads mistakes, the spectre of being made to look a fool hangs heavy and low. We spend our lives cultivating our expertise, avoiding perceived failure. In this light, there is a real fear of exposure; what will happen? will I be made to look stupid in front of my colleagues? All valid concerns which are palpable at the start of a session for some participants.

It is this very discomfort which I will focus on in this article; the very reason for the name of my company; Play, Act, Create, TRANSFORM.

Although of course when running a session, my ego wants everyone to be deliriously happy and full of praise throughout, a recent session got me thinking. It is these very moments of initial discomfort which enable the magic of play to take place.

Taking people out of their comfort zone – safety is key

Let me clarify – during a workplace wellbeing, staff development or team building session - during any of my workshops,  I take the comfort and wellbeing of all participants very seriously. I am a skilled facilitator and can “read” situations to ensure that no participant feels unsafe in a way that could hinder their progress.  The discomfort I talk about is for participants to step out of their comfort zones, and benefit from it.

Harnessing & Transforming Discomfort

In a recent session booked for 20 participants, as the date approached the organiser kept emailing me – several participants had dropped out as they were now “too busy” to attend – more about that later – I offered to switch it to a lunch break and shorten the sessions – the ones who feel too busy need it the most!

Finally, on the day we still had a fair amount of participants, although the organiser was apologetic. We talked about people’s fear of the unknown – and the discomfort around being silly, feeling exposed. This is familiar territory for me and I reassured the organiser and the group that they were in safe hands. Although they felt nervous now, and may do unfamiliar exercises, they would never be pushed to do anything that they truly didn’t want to do, they had ultimate control. As long as they aren’t deliberately offensive to others, anything goes; the beauty of creativity and play is that you can’t get it wrong.

 As I spoke I saw some shoulders loosen and drop a bit. But the person sitting next to me could not have been leaning further away from me if she tried. I tried to reassure her, though I knew that participating in play would do my job for me.

We played a gentle warm-up game where we each do an action and the others have to remember it. When it came to her turn, the woman hesitated. “I have no filter”, she said. I said, that’s fine, so what you need to do. She did a rude finger gesture. I said that’s great. We all did the rude finger gesture. We all laughed. The magic started to happen.

During the next game, the same woman took off her shoes; during the next game she spontaneously sat on the floor to be a part of a team “machine”. By then the power of playing together was in full flow and I knew the transformation was in effect. We could all feel it. It’s the part of my job I love the most. The transformation from discomfort into unbridled joy and laughter. This happens in every session I run and in this transformation lies the key to empowerment. To harness this joyful, creative, uniting potential the possibilities were endless.

Finding the Practical Uses for Play at Work

After the session the participants were buzzing and making the connections themselves.

“ We have two teams who have recently merged and don’t know each other very well – this would be a perfect way to get them working together” Integrating Teams. YES

“ We should do this with people from all departments so when you need something you actually know them” Cross Organisational Collaboration. YES

“ This would be great for Blue Monday” Staff wellbeing initiatives. YES

“ Imagine if we got the bosses doing this with us, it would be brilliant for everyone”. Humanising of management to staff and workplace culture. YES

 Play works. The power of play is so palpable – so much to achieve while having fun together. What are we waiting for?!

Some of the content in the section appears in Jess's PACT Creative Blog Post exploring the benefits of play at work via stepping out of our comfort zones

Jessica Shaw

Director PACT Creative training, PACT Creative Training

Jess is the founder of PACT Creative Training (Play, Act, Create, Transform). She has 20 years' experience facilitating workshops using fun and playfulness in order to boost wellbeing and lower stress. Jess runs creative team building events for companies, Staff INSET Training in Schools and wellbeing-through-play workshops for children & young people in schools.