Play: The Distinction in High-Performance Teams

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Do you remember when you were a kid, everything was fun? You played 24/7. Play was that time when there was no rules, you imagined and created and everything, and anything was possible. You came up with radical new ideas, and you reveled in how brilliant you were!

There was probably at least one memorable toy, hobby, sport, game, or friend, that you can recount playing with so much you lost track of time. When you had to stop, you couldn’t wait to get play again. Playing was a breath of fresh air, it wasn’t something that you were forced to do. You dove in 100%, you excelled, you were a master, and you collaborated with friends to build a masterpiece. Now, as an adult, play is the distinction in high performance teams. 

Is it quite possible that this is the connection that should truly define business?

If play were the foundation of what we did, how innovative might we become…again?

If you could choose a dream job, and money were not an issue, what would you do?

At a networking meeting we explored this question, and the answer all had the same elements: we would choose something that is playful, something that would be a full expression of ourselves, and with money not an issue, something that we are not doing, because we fear we wouldn’t be “good enough at it.”

Hmmm…funny how, with money not being an issue, and with risk put aside, we would would be fearless, self-expressive, and we would engage in play!

Here at the Simon Leadership Alliance, we are dedicated to bringing self-expression into work and creating organizations where fear is celebrated.  You could say we are committed to allow people to play again. Call it what you may…we are committed to creating innovative teams crush it. To crush it…yes, you must play.

It is only through a playful mindset, that your company can reach your next level of performance.  No play, no performance. When was the last time you went to a show, where the hosts, actors, comedians weren’t playful.  They nailed it. Why? Because they still know how to play.

Unfortunately, as we’ve grown older, we have forgotten how to play. We forgot the ability to fully express ourselves in the way we did as kids. We forgot what it feels like to creatively brainstorm in an environment where we won’t be embarrassed or hesitate to make suggestions or even get punished when we make an honest mistake.  We forgot how it felt to have relationships with others who fully embrace and support creativity. We have even gone so far as to “follow” non-existent rules that we make up in our own minds that limit our performance. We end up separating our passions from our work, believe that we can’t be 100% passionate at work, we come home unsatisfied and we wonder “what happened?”

We blame it on our boss, our organization, our team.  But maybe, just maybe, you forgot how to play.

Over time our mindset became more serious.  It hardened. It said, “the way the world is, the way work is, the way my company is, is just the way it is.”   We stopped questioning norms, we stopped saying what if.

Every actionable result, good or bad, rests in the mindset we have while creating it.  Play, the act of asking what’s so, creating what’s not so, being open to a new reality, being open to experiment, being open to challenge, and being open to being open; that’s what great companies encourage, reward, and support to create innovative results that only come from the superpowers of play.  

The Playful Mindset with a Purpose: Our Distinction

PLAY at work, has a specific purpose.  PLAY, as we have introduced it with our clients, inspires curiosity, encourages experimentation, but most of all creates the type of trust and safety required to create a culture of innovation.  Innovation only occurs when individuals are given the following permission, a permission that is unfortunately lacking in many of today’s companies:


  1. The individual bravely gives himself or herself permission to DREAM. The individual overcomes his or her own sense of having to come up with the right idea, and gives himself/herself the permission to dream, to play, to think the unthinkable, to pretend, to come up with something absolutely “wrong” and horrible.
  1. The individual bravely gives himself or herself permission to SPEAK his or her idea into a group.  To speak an idea and not have judgment around what people will think, is perhaps one of the most courageous acts one can take at work, especially when surrounded by colleagues, bosses, clients, or even the CEO.  An organization must be aligned with its purpose, which in most cases is to be the best in their industry, and embrace the fact that to be the best acknowledges that it must test out ALL ideas before it finds the RIGHT idea.  The individual, in a company where purpose is paramount, will only SPEAK when there is no RISK in being “wrong.”
  2. The permission to ACCEPT ALL OFFERS and the team bravely listen to all ideas.  Organizations that crush it, have developed each person’s ability to listen, fully listen, to all ideas brought to the table.  Innovation only happens when each member on your team can listen to all ideas without judgment, embrace the person sharing the idea, and can be open to an idea that he or she did not create him or herself.  Innovation happens when team members say yes to the person, honor the person’s bravery, and acknowledge the other for playing full out.


Yes, each company’s purpose and mission is different.  But unless the purpose and mission is to stay stagnant, each company MUST employ the elements or PLAY and create a culture that embraces play, in order to achieve its purpose.   A mindset of curiosity, experimentation, bravery and listening, the mindset of PLAY is the foundation for the most purposeful and innovative teams.

 Play: The distinction in high performance teams

The Science behind Play in the Workplace


The newest research shows that PLAY is the prime motivator for performance at work.   Or in other words, individuals are choosing companies, teams, friends, and organizations based on whether they are encouraged to be creative, spontaneous, and self-expressive.  In fact, the research shows that individuals are actually more motivated by play, than they are by working to achieve their purpose, or even by working to achieve their potential.


Leading companies like Northrop Grumman support this element of creating innovation through play by their annual event, the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab at SpacePark in Redondo Beach where each year employees can compete in a robotics and drone competition.)  Northrop Grumman has embraced play, because they have found that by encouraging their employees to play and have fun while also producing innovative ideas to integrate into their company. It’s no wonder why they are a leading innovator from undersea to outer space.


At GoPro, the employees can explore endless off-road adventures with their technology, which only adds to the value of their company. Their wellness program is not only designated to ensure employees escape the daily grind, but to also encourage them to think creatively about the company’s technology. How every company engages in play differs, but what we found was that play leads to high levels of commitment, strategy, next-level collaboration, and creates a compelling vision that goes above and beyond the capabilities of everybody in the room.  

In most leading companies today, play is the distinction in high performance teams within their companies. 

Play: The distinction in high performance teams benefits of the playful mindset

Benefits of the Playful Mindset


When we apply playful techniques, we disengage the patterns of our brain to build new muscles. When we build new muscles in our brain, we make important connections that inspire creativity. This kind of creativity brings back to life that creativity you loved from your childhood. It creates endless possibilities for you and your team to brainstorm without shutting down any ideas, where you begin to really realize how many of those ideas are actually possible, and then you can begin to pursue them. The World Economic Forum lists creativity as the #3 skill that companies are searching for in candidates today.

Improved Organizational Culture

The spoken and unspoken norms of your company creates a powerful culture that speaks messages to your employees and your clients. Improving workplace culture increases employee engagement and retention. When we “play” with companies, we create psychologically safe cultures and an increased expectation of excellence that challenges every player to bring their “A” game to the table. Psychological safety is a sense of confidence on the team that allows everyone to authentically fully express themselves, which is innovation’s most valuable element.  Psychological safety thrives in a playful culture, and increases performance of every player on the team.

High Performance

High performance is the ultimate result of play done right in an organization. If your team applies creativity and works in a healthy organizational culture, you will reach sustained high performance. The type of performance that overcomes barriers quicker, tackles challenges head-on, and takes the right risks to win in today’s competitive business market.

Play: The distinction in high performance teams

Not all Play Yields the Same Result

Searching the term “play in the workplace” will yield over 200 million results because leading companies and organizations are constantly looking to implement play at work in the most productive way. This is because learning to apply play in your organizational culture effectively, is like finding a needle in the haystack. Nearly all of those results gives advice like  “get outside!” or “let people personalize their workspace” and even “play a game of musical charades”.

These examples lead many leaders and executives to question, “how does playing charades strengthen my team?”. It does get people to have a good time, maybe get to know each other better, but strong teams who focus on high performance aren’t playing charades, they are playing games that align with their needs: the need for creativity, an innovative culture, and high performance.

This is the distinction in defining play at The Simon Leadership Alliance. The proven benefits behind how we play creates high performance teams who excel in creativity, an improved culture. We play in a strategic way that helps your bottom line, and really helps your team experience what few organizations do: play to create a positive impact on your mission. Playing really has two distinctive missions, play for the sake of play, and playing for the sake of performance. One is focused on recreational play, the other is focused on creating innovative companies.

Play the Distinction of High Performance Teams at The Simon Leadership Alliance

We apply a mixture of improv comedy and game-based training to our executive coaching, workshops, retreats and leadership development programs for corporations and startups with one focus: building and retaining long-term excellence with high performing teams.

Transformation to a playful, creative mindset begins with FreshBiz.

FreshBiz is a game-based training that is fun & insightful, designed to completely transform your work culture and allow you and your team to practice creativity, collaboration, innovation, leadership and creative thinking. Created with your business strategy in mind, it helps you develop a new mindset to find new ways to grow your business, increase your impact, and your revenue in a multi-dimensional way. The FreshBiz Game has reached over 80 countries, and sparked ideas in companies that has earned extra revenue by the millions. FreshBiz helps your team reach a new mindset and potential.

Improv Comedy Training

The skills acquired from practicing and performing improv are golden communication and collaboration tools in the business world. Through improv, participants learn to accept whatever you confront in your business, embrace failure, and practice the importance of making your team members look good. The improv practice of “yes and…” focuses on unconditional acceptance, active listening and bridging information together to form the right message. With the improv practice of zip-zap-zop, team members practice quick thinking, memorizing information rapidly, and re-directing movement; all important skills in business. Improv training is both fun, and beneficial as your team sharpens their listening skills, collaborates, and lets go of judgement.

Choose to Play for Innovation

Innovation is a form of play.  Play is the backbone of innovation.  It is amazing what can be gained by individuals gathered around and encouraged to be their best selves, to express what they truly think and feel, to enter into an environment where risk is truly encouraged, and where people are asked to implement ideas to make each person on their team more brilliant, more effective, and more alive.   We are placed on this earth one time. We are asked to perform. Our performance can be one that connects us to the liveliness, curiosity, amazement, and surprise that we experienced in our youth. We can give our greatest performance. And together we truly become our best selves to create teams, organizations, and companies that are a force and make a difference in the marketplace.

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