Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to some common questions about Flywheel.
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Isn't playing unproductive?
Imagine a bell curve. Along the bottom axis, we have "100% Work" on the left, and "100% Play" on the right. Along the side axis, we have Productivity, which increases as we go up. The bottom corners of the bell (all-work and all-play) are actually the lowest in terms of productivity - employees have no internal motivation and so only do the absolute minimum, or else have no focus for their energy and can't make meaningful progress. The center of the bell, where play and work are most mixed, is the highest productive state - employees are highly engaged, motivated, and creative about their approaches to work. We call this "playing to task."
Many managers are concerned that if they allow play to happen at work, they'll end up in the all-play corner of the graph, with employees goofing off instead of working. This isn't the case. Adults feel a great sense of fulfillment from accomplishing tasks, especially when those tasks are important, and Flywheel's approach focuses on helping companies and employees create environments where "playing to task" is the norm.
What does playing actually do?
1. Play is agility.
Dynamic adaptation to unexpected events draws on each individual’s expertise, and their intimate knowledge of the changing conditions in their areas of responsibility. In play, individuals are empowered to make the best decisions possible to achieve their team’s objectives.
2. Play is practice.
Innovation requires us to imagine a world that doesn’t yet exist. Play allows us to explore new ideas, test new concepts, improve our skills, and rehearse collaboration in a safe space, where we can fail freely on the path to developing a new idea.
3. Play is community-building.
The best work is performed by people who like and trust one another. Playing together creates a space to learn how other people perform, and to practice coordinating actions to achieve a goal. Play also creates powerful bonds between group members, which improve the group’s ability to face obstacles, overcome challenges, and rebound from setbacks.
Our company already has a "Work Hard, Play Hard" philosophy. What makes Flywheel's approach different?
There are lots of ways to integrate play into work, and while anything that enriches an employee's experience is valuable, there are many reasons to focus on integrated play at work over more periodic after-work experiences. Here are a few of the drawbacks of a Work Hard Play Hard (WHPH) approach:
WHPH reinforces the idea that working for your company isn't satisfying. A WHPH approach is a way to provide opportunities for celebration, stress relief, or fun for your staff. Experiences like parties, picnics, team building events, and happy hours definitely have their place, but if they are the only opportunity for pleasure at work, they perpetuate the idea that the actual work being done is not (or cannot) be fulfilling.
WHPH is often fueled by alcohol. While this isn't universally true, many WHPH experiences are centered around alcohol. This can make these events socially challenging and stressful for employees of certain faiths, or employees who are pregnant, recovering from substance abuse, or otherwise uninterested in drinking.
To be clear, there's nothing wrong with your company picking up a bar tab. But again, if it's the only option available, it can do more to divide your staff than to bring them together.
WHPH is either "mandatory fun" or totally optional. Depending on company expectations and attitudes, employees either can participate or must participate in WHPH experiences. Either option creates challenges for the company and its employees, with "mandatory fun" being an emotional obligation for employees, and optional experiences being a perfunctory way to create community. This is especially true for employees with families (a growing segment of the working population), whose responsibilities at home may mean that they skip most WHPH experiences or resent being forced to attend.
The psychological benefits of small celebrations are much greater than big celebrations. In their excellent book "The Progress Principle," Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer articulate the idea of regularly celebrating "small wins." Research from behavioral economics and social psychology fully support this idea; people are much more satisfied with regular, small celebrations than infrequent, large ones.
In practical terms, this means you're better off getting someone you love a $10 bouquet of flowers every day than a single $50 bouquet once a week. From a organizational management standpoint, it means that organizations can have a much greater impact on employee well-being by focusing on regular, inexpensive, integrated play experiences, rather than the occasional, expensive blowout.
My company already has a great set of values. How can Flywheel help us?
Great values are the foundation upon which great cultures are built. What many companies struggle with, however, is translating their values into actions. In order for a thriving culture to exist, employees have to experience their company's values as part of daily practice, not as abstract ideas in a manual.
Culture is created simultaneously from the top-down and from the bottom-up, and role modeling is much more important than edicts. For managers and members of the C-suite, this means regularly practicing behaviors that are representative of your values, and giving your employees implicit and explicit permission to do the same. While it is challenging to figure out what these behaviors may be, there is a format that can help: games.
Games are structures that can be designed to encourage specific behaviors, actions, or moves. A good game prompts these behaviors through mechanics (what is allowed to happen) and aesthetics (what things look like). A great game uses mechanics and aesthetics to reinforce one another, giving each player clear opportunities to take meaningful actions that reflect certain values.
While creating highly complex games doesn't usually make sense in a working environment, much of Flywheel's approach centers on helping organizations create game-like structures that instantiate their values. Crucially, these aren't created in a vacuum; instead, we work with employees at every level to identify, design, and implement new ways to turn policies into practices.
I can’t interrupt my employees' day with this.
In 1970, the economist Milton Friedman famously stated "The business of business is business," meaning that the obligations of a company are simply to follow the law and try to increase profits. While this may have been true in the industrial economy of nearly 50 years ago, it isn't true today. In order to stay competitive in the modern knowledge economy, businesses must provide their employees with more than a paycheck - they must provide them with a culture within which they can do their best work.
Making time for play at work is the only way to fully realize a great culture. Just as the best teams practice more than they compete, and the best orchestras practice more than they perform, playing at work is the essential practice that makes workplace teams great. Playing allows teams to collaborate in a safe space, generate new ideas without risk, and rapidly integrate new approaches to solving problems. Businesses can't afford not to allow time for play.
That said, Flywheel's approach is integrative, and works incrementally to affect significant change without unduly disrupting workflow. We can work within the constraints of your working environment to develop solutions that are right for your company, creating significant cultural change over time.
What does Flywheel actually do?
Flywheel doesn't use a single panacea. Rather, we take a customized approach to working with each of our clients, begin by getting to know your company, its values, practices, and people. From there, we work with various levels of the company to address specific issues or develop a playful culture.
Working with teams:
Through workshops and meetings, we bring teams to a receptive and expressive state, where the root causes of challenges to productivity can be explored. Through facilitated exercises, we guide teams in identifying and diagnosing workplace issues, and then collaborating to design and implement sustainable practices to address those issues. Via this process, we also help teams identify opportunities for a greater amount of agency and ownership, and for play within their work.
Working with managers:
We work with managers via group workshops and one-on-one sessions to internalize a play-based approach to work. Managers learn how to sustain healthy cultural practices developed by their teams, and how to adapt and create new play-based approaches to work over the long term.
Working with leaders:
Also via group workshops and one-on-one sessions, we work with leaders to help them understand how to approach their company as an infinite game, and to design and implement policies and practices that instantiate their values.
What is your approach based on?
Take a look at our Resources page to review information from a variety of sources on how great cultures are created, and the place playing has in doing so.
Where does the name "Flywheel" come from?
A flywheel is a rotating wheel that is used to store mechanical energy. Your car probably has one. Basically, it's a mechanical battery - it can be charged up, and can later send energy back to the machine when it needs it.
In many ways, a flywheel is a great analogy for company culture. By integrating play into work and building a culture of agency, flexibility, and ownership, your company can create an incredible store of workplace energy that can be used to help your teams face challenges and overcome setbacks.
Ready to get started? Schedule an initial consultation to determine if Flywheel is a good fit for your organization.
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