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A former colleague of mine once tweeted that he just completed a “120 hour week” at his new company. In the same week, another colleague confided in me her feelings of exhaustion and burnout. As creatives, we feel we are always under pressure to work more hours and meet increasingly aggressive deadlines. Our Slack messages and calendar invites drown out the needs for taking the time to exercise our creative thinking skills. We can do this by reserving time for creative play with your team.

Exploring creative play as a team

The common ideology is that the office should be “professional,” and the idea of play is silly or not useful for productivity. Creative play can enrich work, make it more enjoyable, and build trust among team members. Drawing can be an avenue to explore play as a group.

Studies have shown that our tendency to daydream drops significantly after the 4th grade. Drawing as a form of expression becomes much less frequent as we get older. Our creativity might not decrease, but as we develop into adults our world view becomes more realistic and cynical. Drawing frequently can help unlock ideas. Even doodling will reconnect your brain to areas that will help you analyze problems differently.

Battling the lonely creative syndrome

Hired for our talents and celebrated for our achievements, traditional work culture encourages us to go about the creative process alone. Even if there is a team of creatives, individual contributors will act… individually. This attitude adds wear and tear to our abilities as well as to the team and their output quality.

What is creative play?

While play is often characterized as the opposite of work, it is at the same level of evolution as language, culture, and technology. We can introduce play through simple and quick activities such as icebreakers, games, and activities to help people build trust in a lighthearted atmosphere.

Build trust and creativity

Creative play can help build connections with the team. Play gives us opportunities to try new activities, experiment, and fail in a safe place. Team members can learn that failing in front of each other is ok and even encouraged.

Why drawing?

My former art teacher described drawing as a ‘lonely’ art. Typically, the artist is looking to create a representation of something that fits his or her vision and standards. We are taught to do this by ourselves, and the resulting work is our work.

Recently, I have found a number of activities that use drawing as a collaborative tool. By removing the ownership bringing in at least two people, it creates an environment of collaborative fun.

3 Examples of team creativity hacks

Setting aside time for creative play with your team can be an excuse to bring together people who do not normally collaborate together. Jon Steinback describes on his Medium article, “A list of creative exercises for creative teams,” that he uses the opportunity for connecting his visual designers, UX designers, copywriters, researchers, and operations. He sets aside Friday afternoons when productivity is at a low and the need for unplugging rises.

Below are some examples of activities that introduce creative play. I focused more on drawing activities that challenge the participants to think and act in ways that are normally done alone.

Silent drawing gallery

This activity gives the participants a limited time to draw freely. Then the group will interpret each expression. I have done another version of this where the prompt was to draw from tea stained index cards. The participants could draw on as many cards as they could within 10 minutes. We then spent time interpreting the output.



Big Design Tea Drawings

Drawing with tea to inspire creativity in corporate culture

Check out the talks from Big Design and UX Australia: Managing Design where I got a whole room to do this.

Team member trading cards

One of the activities that Jon Steinback does during his Friday afternoon creative sessions is “PX Team member trading cards.” Each person picks another person’s name out of a hat. That person then makes a trading card for that person. The requirement for the cards is a representative image and stats.

Describe and draw team building game

Here is an example from Venture Team Building. It takes about 30 minutes. The team instructs the “artist” what to draw. The team describes the item without revealing the name or certain keywords.

You can find the details for running this activity here.

We have creative teams, but we often find ourselves working alone. Collaboration is a skill that we can easily practice. Not just with day-to-day work but with play.

Interested in more posts on bringing creativity into work? Check these posts.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.