Fun: There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way

“In our culture, fun is equated with a waste of time.”

I had this conversation twice in the past week. One person was talking about the culture of his country. The other was talking about her work culture.

“Fun” is a Rorschach test of a word. People read all sorts of things into it based upon their previous experiences. The truth is, fun in the training room can indeed be a waste of time, but it doesn’t have to be.

Furthermore, how is a “serious” presentation not a waste of time if it’s boring and nobody remembers anything from it by the time lunch rolls around the very same day?

I’ve been facilitating workshops for 16 years and if there’s one thing I can say for certain: adults like to play. Whether you’re a youth development specialist (where play is a part of your every day job) or a more “dignified” professional such as a surgeon or attorney or some hotshot executive, I’ve never seen participants more engaged, I’ve never been in a room full of participants in which the energy levels have been higher, than when I’m facilitating an icebreaking or energizing or teambuilding activity.

I will concede that an isolated “fun” activity can actually be a waste of time. After all, people aren’t sacrificing time from their day jobs just to have fun in the training room. The fun needs to mean something. And that requires intentional design and an effective de-brief.

Beginning the day by having people work in small groups to see how quickly they can pass a tennis ball around to each team member is fun. De-briefing this activity by discussing the concept of innovation and being able to refer back to this activity throughout the remainder of the day makes this fun activity meaningful.

Beginning a meeting by blowing up two balloons is fun. Having the balloons sit on the boardroom table and referring back to them throughout the rest of the day makes that fun activity meaningful.

Beginning an eye anatomy course by having the participants take a Cosmo-style quiz called “Which Eyeball Part Are You?” seems nonsensical and fun. Using that activity to lower anxiety and build a foundation upon which the students can learn the nuances of ocular anatomy makes it a meaningful and worthwhile exercise.

Playing a game of “telephone” to start a meeting can be fun. De-briefing the activity to ask how it can serve as a metaphor for your team’s communication (or miscommunication) practices helps drive the point home.

When “fun” is intentional, serious learning can happen.

Can the same always be said of the more “dignified” and “professional” presentations we see on a daily basis?