The Games People Play
“Work is much more fun than fun.”
~ Noel Coward
Gamification bugs me. I mean, really bugs me. Specifically, it bugs me because I see it as too often just doing the wrong things righter. I can understand how teams – and their coaches – fret about how “boring” their group interactions might be on occasions (retrospectives are one kind of group interaction that often raises such concerns). Who would want to sit through a seemingly interminable series of such sessions? And yes, I can understand how folks might think that “spicing things up a bit” by making things “a bit more fun” could help. I’m not anti-fun btw. And as an inveterate gamer myself, not anti-games, either.
“If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago. We do things to pursue other elements of well-being. We want meaning in life. We want accomplishment.”
~ Prof Martin Seligman
No, the thing that bugs me is the way in which this seemingly simple and innocuous solution to “boring meetings” derails folks from addressing the root causes of the boredom, and thus from achieving any real and lasting improvement in the effectiveness of their interactions. And from any deeper sense of job-satisfaction and well-being, too.
“The work is the most fun; it seems illicit how much fun it is.”
~ Meryl Streep
Very simply stated, boredom arises from activities which the participants see as having little or no purpose or relevance. Attempts to spice up such activities with games and other “fun” distractions seem to me to be like sticking a band-aid on a broken leg. Palliative, but hardly an effective response.
Personally, I would much rather feel whatever I was spending a part of my time – my life – on was working towards a common purpose, with shared meaning, than some kind of specious, self-indulgent pleasure-seeking. Surely a better approach to dealing with boredom and poor ineffective group interactions would be to recognise the boredom as a signal and seek to restore purpose and relevance?
Fun is the New Opiate of the Masses
The job satisfaction in doing purposeful, relevant work far outweighs the superficial attractions of having forced “fun” from time to time. Of course, many teams have little prospect of turning things around in their workplaces such that purpose and relevance manifest themselves in daily business. In these cases, maybe the empty joy of “fun and games” is all they have, within their limited remit. I feel deeply for these poor unfortunates. However, personally, I believe that, as ever, the old adage applies:
“Change your organisation, or change your organisation”.
In a previous blog post I described one way to restore purpose and relevance to the retrospective.
“Fun is a good thing but only when it spoils nothing better.”
~ George Santayana
In closing, I’ll reiterate: I embrace the value in enjoying what we do at work, and in finding well-being in (and through) our labours. My impetus fro writing this post is the concern that in attempting to inject some fun into sometime dull and unfulfilling work, we miss the real opportunities for deeply fulfilling experiences through a preoccupation with the superficiality of games disconnected from purpose.
What do you think?