As many of our children are now on summer vacation – whether from kindergarten, college or somewhere in between – I’m reminded of the importance of “play time” for rejuvenating energy levels and encouraging new ways of thinking. Of course, our children may see the summer as simply a time for ball games, swim parties and flashlight tag, but in reality, having this unstructured time helps them develop in ways that a more structured environment like school does not.
According to Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, “Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.” In short, play encourages learning, imagination and growth in children. And not surprisingly, having some “play time” can do the same thing for your sales team.
Somewhere between the sandbox and the conference room, most of us stop playing. We have calendars, CRMs, KPIs and pipeline reports to keep us on track, sometimes every second of our day. And while having accountability and tools that help drive it are absolutely essential, we also want to plan for open time to just learn, create, explore and dream. This is essential for engaging your sales team, re-energizing their work and helping them think in new ways. For those of you familiar with EcSell's catalytic factor concept, this type of unstructured activity is what can put your team into complexity, getting them to consider ideas that they normally do not have time to consider. In essence, play is necessary for people function at their highest level in a work environment. (Read more about the catalytic factor here.)
Google is famous for their “Twenty Percent Time,” where they allow their engineers to spend one day a week on work that is not directly related to their job responsibilities. This is time for them to explore a special project that they believe will help Google customers or employees. This is essentially company-sanctioned unstructured play and Google can point to new products that have specifically resulted it. While this is impressive, direct results aren’t necessarily the most important benefit of play. It is how play time impacts your employees’ minds and attitudes that can really yield long-term benefits.
Play time re-energizes your salespeople. It unclutters their busy minds. It opens them to think more creatively. It gives them the opportunity to consider the possibilities. And this type of freedom and investment can yield numerous benefits, including higher employee morale, a more engaged workforce and increased employee retention. And ultimately, this will benefit your business even if you don’t come up with the “next big thing” idea.
So consider having your sales reps set aside some time each week for exploring a new idea. Plan a team retreat where you engage in an activity like painting to get the creative juices playing. Make it a job responsibility to learn and dream. Inject some play into your work!
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