Play that connects

From fragmented groups to soil for growing collaboration


This is not a story about a lasting transformation. But I’m telling this story because it’s an example of how play can connect people. It can be profound. And play is a tool, we too often forget we have in our toolbox. Sometimes a really good day together can make a kind of cultural soil in which something good can grow.

So the story is about a design director in an insurance company, who had 30 people working under her. And they were fragmented into three groups. And those groups sat in different areas. And she knew they didn’t really know each other or connect in a way that made those three groups add up to something bigger. Like really they all knew they could. They felt an urge for connection. Not just I met everybody, but I appreciate these people and this big effort that I’m a part of.

But they only had one day to spare in their crazy schedule. And she asked us to accomplish three things in that day. Have people really see each other, and really see the group, and the day had to be fun. And that was such a great request because it let us design an arc of activities that invited increasing depth and vulnerability through the day.

Connection requires openness and honesty. Going to the baseball game wouldn’t achieve that. And because everybody brings their old poop into something like this, people have to feel free to choose how much they want to reveal about themselves.

So after breakfast and sample introductions, the day began. We gave people note cards and everybody milled around collecting stories from each other. Then small groups made death in a minute plays. They had ten minutes to write and rehearse a play. Everybody had to have a role. The play could only last one minute. And somebody in the play had to die. And then it was Showtime. Which was hilarious. And then we had a pub quiz and served beer at 10:30 in the morning.

And then after lunch, each person painted an image of their past and future on a panel that was one piece of a huge cardboard tapestry. And the storytelling tour of those panels was profound. And then at days end we walked down the street for happy hour. And the director told us that this day began relationships and a lasting, relaxed and happier way of collaborating.

So that’s it. Theater, games, fast paced conversation, art that invited personal expression. Individual creations adding up to a big group result. And all in a scene with absolutely no expectation that anybody would perform or deliver in any particular way.

It’s a kind of magic.

ContextUniversity Group size20Duration2 daysOutcomeReframed questions for culture shiftCollaboratorsHanna du Plessis