Fun at work: using activity-based learning to boost productivity September 19, 2019 We learn better when we’re having fun. At AMC Technology, we’re trying to find ways to incorporate fun into our work to increase engagement and improve learning and valuable outcomes. Embracing change through positive learning Credits: Designed by Peoplecreations / Freepik As humans, we’re naturally a bit averse to change. We’ve learned it. Yet, we’ve also learned that change is inevitable and often productive. Evolution itself shows us that we adapt or die, yet habits are hard to break. Many of us are being asked to break long-standing (and often proven) habits in order to appease a new corporate goal – implement Scrum, use Kanban, become “Agile” for example. Our standard learning process has been to lecture, preach and memorize, but while this has been effective, we also know there are more productive ways to learn. Engaging your pupils – at any age – increases their learning capacity, but how do we engage others? How do we learn best? Fun. Science tells us that when we’re mentally engaged, the brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is released in the brain whenever we experience something we enjoy and triggers those good feelings we love so much. When we can associate learning with good feelings, we’re making the most of ourselves. People today are changing how we look at learning for all ages. Middle schoolers are being taught in a project-based learning environment. High schoolers in Richmond, Virginia who attend Code RVA are proving that learning as part of a Scrum team has tangible benefits to the teachers and the students. At the college level, POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) is using self-managed student teams with instructors as facilitators to enhance retention and participation. Perhaps the most glaring change has to be in the working world where Lego is showing up in board rooms as part of Serious Play facilitation sessions which are designed to help adults collaborate and innovate. Credits: ScrumRVA 2nd Annual Scrummer Gamer-2018 If you’re working in an Agile environment at work, you should recognize these methods. The biggest difference between the success of these programs in the schools and the office is what the people bring to the equation. It’s not hard to see a difference between children and young adults in institutions for learning versus employees with stress, deadlines and years of biases we bring to each relationship in the office. Science has shown that Cognitive Bias is a real thing. If you feel like diving into that rabbit hole, here are some links (Confirmation bias, How to Outsmart Your Own Unconscious Bias, Stereotypical Hiring Practices) to start that journey. The benefits of playing at work It’s not unreasonable to imagine that most young people are more willing to trust others than our older office mates, and they certainly have fewer ingrained beliefs and habits. You could posit these as the reasons school participants experience more success in these environments than the adoption of Agile in corporate environments. Roger Haskett’s keynote presentation “The Power of Play” at the 2017 BA World was an eye-opener for me and along with my follow-up research, allowed me to be free to not feel guilty about loving work and enjoying the people and activities associated with it. As previously mentioned, one of the primary challenges with building teams in the office is changing behavior. Fun is one way to change behavior. In 2009, DDB Stockholm launched the Volkswagen campaign The Fun Theory. These commercials documented how introducing something fun could alter our typical behavior. Their three experiments were to replace a set of standard stairs with the look and sound of a piano. The result increased foot traffic up the stairs by 66% during the measured timeframe. Another experiment was to install a slide as an option for travelers, while the third was The Bottle Bank – a recycle bin that was reframed as a game. In each instance, the allure of having fun changed behavior in a desirable way. I feel it’s unreasonable to expect the above examples by themselves to permanently change a person’s behavior; however, with regularly planned activities and positive reinforcement, I do believe we can promote longer-lasting results. If people see positive possibilities and experience positive realities, they can choose to make permanent changes. How to throw an awesome team building activity? So back to our journey at AMC Technology. What are we doing to introduce fun into our environment to improve our learning and change behavior? Recently, we held a scavenger hunt in our office neighborhood. We divided our office into individual teams. This is a simple method that is used to promote conversation as well as to learn something about the others in the group. It starts the process of engaging and typically enhances ensuing activities. We had everyone think of something they identify with outside of work. Take the first letter of that word/phrase. Self-organize with one another into an alphabetical line – the person who has a word closest to A at one end and goes all the way to the person at the other end who has a word closest to Z. Starting with the first person in line count off one person at a time from one to four (1st person is one, 2nd person is 2… 5th person starts over with 1, 6th person 2, etc. All the people with the same number become a team (all ones, all twos, etc.). The rules of the game were passed out in advance to save time once the activity began. Rules of the hunt The items for the hunt were provided after we had created our teams so planning was on the spot. They were then given 10 minutes to ask their “customer” (facilitator) questions – or they could use that time towards the hunt. The majority took the extra time to find items and take pictures of themselves with these. I had taken many opportunities to walk around the neighborhood and identify items that would be added to the list. During this time, I’d figured about 20 minutes to walk around the neighborhood at a leisurely pace and probably 40-50 minutes to cover the entire neighborhood at a bit faster pace. What I didn’t expect was harried, sweaty workers speeding through the office looking for items and suggesting “this would be much better if it was cooler” or “you should have told us what this was earlier – I would have worn flats!” Lesson learned! Credits: AMC Technology employees taking pictures of themselves with city sewer plates, mini libraries or dog pooping signs during the scavenger hunt. It was a lot of fun for me creating the activity and more glee than I can type watching folks participate in the event. Lessons learnt from the team building activity Five things I learned from the hunt: Teams commitment to winning – given the opportunity – people want to be successful. I was too subdued with the tasks – I based them on my expectations, not on their limits. Doing a retrospective a day or two later worked best – allow time for folks to process the information before reflecting for improvement. This was a lot of fun for everyone – given the opportunity to engage and have fun, people typically do. Agile maturity shapes the activity – the more the teams know, the more the activity is an opportunity to practice; the less they know the more the activity is a lesson on how or where the teams can improve. Five things the teams learned from the event: Customer is always right – we aim to build the right thing, not just something. Take time to plan – we want to make sure that we’re doing the most valuable work. Wasn’t expected to be fun but was – don’t be afraid to try something. Organizing as a team was challenging – new teams take time to perform. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – satisfying our customer is our highest priority. Five things I’d do differently next time: Be crazier with the tasks Include more ‘customer’ specifications/rewards Make the whole team be required to be in every photo Require that evidence be clear (some photos were too far away) Award points for best presentation We have a great group of folks at AMC Technology, excited about providing value, growing our business and serving our customers to the best of our abilities. Interested in hearing how scavenger hunts have gone for others. Until next time Agilistas! Mariah MaysMariah spends her days in Illustrator and marketing stat spreadsheets at AMC Technology. She enjoys summer days outdoors, exploring the food scene in RVA and spending time with her husband, son and dog.