Work and play or rather play at work

During my last job, at a design agency in London, we had a pool table. At 530 everyday, almost like clockwork, 2-4 of us would go and shoot some stick. It was a great semi release, we would end up talking about projects or developments in the world of technology more often then not. When we moved offices and ditched the pool table a large part of me felt that was a mistake, but I couldn’t articulate why.

At Yahoo! we have pool, foosball and ping pong tables and though I rarely get the chance to play these days it’s good to know they’re there. I’ve had some good conversations about life, work, philosophy and politics around these tables. One of the best times I’ve had at Yahoo! has been when we went out to play golf in the middle of Soho, not only was the golf fun but in winning the closest to the pin competition I’ve been inspired to play more golf. There was also some great work-related conversation that evening in a relaxed non-traditional environment.

And then I read about the Google Games (hat tip: Brad Feld) where students from MIT and Harvard came in and played various physical, mental and just plain fun games. Great recruitment technique if you ask me.

Last week I came across an article in the London Business School Business Strategy Review regarding the role of play at work. It’s weird but I’ve always felt that having a playful outlet was important to being able to work effectively. And this article makes that case.

If/When I start my own company I think play will play an important part in recruitment, engagement and strategy. If for no other reason then the fact that its fun and we spend way too much time at work not to have fun there.

  • Andrew

    Great post, Farhan – it hadn’t occurred to me, but I couldn’t agree more.

    I think there is a really important point here about the value of informal team socialising – as opposed to ‘organised activity’ – and giving employees a space to engage with each other.

    I’ve seen this done badly at other, erm, well known digital agencies and for me, understanding what is culturally right for your organisation, whether it be a Wii, a pool table or just a shared ‘jukebox’, is the key to making it work.

    I probably owe my job to that pool table!

  • Farhan

    Hi Andrew, had forgotten about the infamous pool table incident. That’s a great point regarding culture. Think companies should have a play budget and a chief culture officer rather then HR lead initiatives for improving company cultures.

  • Ethan Bauley

    Farhan, I wish I had more time to write on this now, but you should check out this guy Mike Bonifer, who has built an entire team-building/learning framework around the concepts used by master improvisers (in theater and music):

    It’s really brilliant stuff…check out some of the workshop clips a few posts down on his site!

  • Farhan

    Awesome! Thanks Ethan!

  • Ethan Bauley


    He also uses a quote from Plato often:

    “You can learn more about a man in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation.”

    You need to install Disqus on here…I can’t keep track of this convo!

    (or just email me… ethanbauley // gmail)

  • Ethan Bauley

    Hey can you email me that London Business article you referenced?