Play and exploring, why they are important in organisational development.

There seems to be a paradox in business that play is only for children, not for adults and most certainly not appropriate within a serious business environment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Every adult still has a desire to play whether consciously or subconsciously.

Why is play so important in learning and development?

  • People bond better when playing, (co-)creating, imagining and exploring in a safe environment.
  • If play and simulation games are effectively designed and integrated in a learning programme they offer a safe opportunity to learn. It allows people to experiment outside the real world , meaning there is not much at risk other than powerful learning. This powerful learning is the result of having the permission to make mistakes and enjoy success, to use effective and ineffective communication during the activity and to observe and experience different behaviours having an impact.
  • Play and simulation games are a challenging activity which most people engage with immediately.
  • The feelings they generate are real and stick with people longer than cognitive learning alone. Just think about a great or a bad experience in your life! Simply recalling the experience has a huge effect on feelings and bodily sensations. The memories remain vividly.
  • Play and simulation games allow for more risk taking, experimenting, exploring and learning in a safe context.

“It has been demonstrated that carefully orchestrated play in organisations contributes to “building adult learning communities” and enhances “adult learners’ collective experiences and understandings” (Harris & Daley 2008, p52)”*

So why not integrating some play and exploration into learning and development in your organisation?

Experiential learning, based on Kolb’s experiential learning cycles (ELT)** allows participants to extract the learning from the doing. Instead of telling, lecturing, ‘powerpoint’-ing how something should be done, learners engage in an experience, not only mentally but also physically and emotionally. They reflect on the experience afterwards, connect the experience to easy to understand concepts and then try out the learning, resulting in new experiences.

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). **

My experience to date with activities, learning tools and play:

Working for over 10 years as a facilitator/trainer in experiential leadership courses here at the Leadership Trust I hear lots of positive feedback from participants after attending a course based on experiential learning. “Best course I’ve ever been on” “Full of surprises which is fun learning” “It’s a different thing doing things instead of taking about them”…

Most people love challenges and like to engage in play, exercises or simulation games. The learning they extract from the experience is powerful and lasts for a lifetime.

Hence the reason why all courses I now design are based on experiential learning, allowing people to practice skills whilst having fun and turning play into learning.

Another inspiring way to grow awareness and develop new thinking is using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology. This is thinking with the hands and the mind. It engages creativity in our brain and allows for different, imaginative thinking. It’s an eye opener for teams and allows organisations to build a strategy/plan/team/… using play through construction with LEGO®, rather than penciling in ideas and figures on a flipchart.

How often do we really fully engage our brain’s potential at work?

Wouldn’t it be more fun if we could seriously work and learn through play?

Or:  Wouldn’t life be more enjoyable if we could productively work and learn through play?


*From a literature review performed by H. Hasan and I. Verenikina, University of Wollongon, 2010

** More info on Kolb’s ELT can be found on


Christine Reijnders

Leadership Development Consultant, Course Director, Facilitator, Executive Coach

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