WEBINAR: Cultivating Resilience Through Play

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Because we are mostly working from home, the thing many of us miss about the workplace is the random moments of connection with others, such as when we refill our coffee, take our lunch break or walk to the printer. It’s in these moments when we step away, connect and relax that we gain energy and insights that we can take back to our work and life.

Last week, I led a one hour webinar as part of a wellness program for Diplomatic Language Services on "Cultivating Resilience through Play." The webinar includes a 20 minute primer on play, as well as a group activity where participants brainstorm how they experience play at work and how they might cultivate more play in their now virtual teams.

The information shared during the webinar is from a Washington Post article titled "Why it’s good for grown-ups to go play" by Jennifer Wallace published in 2017. Please enjoy this open webinar with hopes that it inspires you to find the meaning of play for you.

For adults, play doesn't have to mean running around the jungle gym, although it certainly could. Adults play differently. Some enjoy stamp collecting, while others enjoy doing a complex coloring book, playing Sudoku, reading their horoscope, line dancing, reading a book, or having a creative hobby, such as photography. According to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, what all play has in common is that it is done for no reason other than our enjoyment.

In a study done by René Proyer published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, four types of play were found.

  1. Clowning around; 

  2. Being generally lighthearted and not pre-occupied with concerns about the future; 

  3. Creative play with thoughts and ideas; and

  4. Whimsical play, or interest in the strange, unusual and small everyday observations.

According to Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, we are wired for play through evolution . Play started as a way to teach children new skills, and in adulthood, helped to build camaraderie in groups of hunter-gatherers, when living in tribes was important for our survival.

Today, play is important in building trusting working relationships, a foundational element for high-performing teams. In Patrick Lencioni's The Five Behaviors® Model, trust is the foundation of the pyramid, and we build trust through shared personal experiences, such as play. Have you ever had a negative image about someone, and then they change your whole outlook about them with a simple joke? You get the point.

According to Lynn Barnett, professor of recreation at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, play can be therapeutic. Research shows that at work, play increases our ability to learn, as well as improves productivity and job satisfaction. At home, it can encourage family bonding. Adults who play may find it easier to manage everyday stress. Keeping little upsets in perspective helps us cope and be more resilient.

In other words, play is one way that we can cultivate a resilient spirit. In a workshop I took from visual practitioner Jill Greenbaum at the 2017 International Forum of Visual Practitioners conference, resilience was defined as "the ability to recover after being bent, compressed, depressed and stretched." Greenbaum's model for resilience includes the following tenants, which I have added to from my own toolkit.

  1. Seeing possibility, or appreciative intelligence

  2. Regulating emotions, or mindfulness

  3. Experiencing and learning from failure

  4. Flexibility and ability to change course when needed

  5. Savoring an experience in the moment, or being present

  6. Feeling and express gratitude

Educational researcher Angela Duckworth calls this "grit."

So, if resilience is the "why", play is the "how." Play is not just something we do when we're on vacation; it is an essential human need. Without it, we can become rigid, stuck or feel victimized by others. We limit our abilities to be creative and see things from different perspectives. And without the ability to see things differently, we lose opportunities to learn and design new products and services, when the old ones are no longer needed. Remember Kodak? Kodak who? The ability to see things from many angles helps us better listen to and engage our clients, as well as expand the reach and impact of our organizations.

Play can be learned. It might be a muscle that's harder to reach for some, but we all have it.


  1. Think about the kind of play that you enjoyed in your childhood, and connect that to your life now. For example, if you did soccer growing up, might you join a recreational league?

  2. Now think about ways you might bring more play to your work. If you're looking for ideas, check out our blog on "Purposeful Play: 5 Favorite Virtual Energizers."

  3. Come up with a few ideas, and set an intention to try one for yourself and one with colleagues next week.

"Play has the power to deeply enrich your adult life, if you pay attention to it."

- Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play

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Dancing with Markers® offers visual facilitation, visual-note-taking, coaching, workshops and training, and consulting services, both in person and through virtual sessions. 


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