Ferris Bueller’s Team Building Away Day and Problem Solving Workshop

I take my role as an uncle very seriously. That’s why I recently introduced two of my teenaged niblings to the teen comedy classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For the uninitiated, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an ode to living life in the moment, to breaking the rules and dealing with the consequences (or escaping them if you can!) and an admonition to all of us to stop and smell the roses.

Ferris, a charming slacker, decides to skip school with his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, and his best pal, Cameron Frye. They borrow Cameron’s father’s sports car and head into the city on an adventure. Along the way they talk about what it means to grow up, face challenges, become responsible adults and they deepen their friendships. In the end Ferris manages to mend his broken relationship with his sister (although I can’t honestly say how) and Frye finally faces up to his problems with his dad.

Admittedly a few of the references, a lot of the style and all of the technology in the movie were rather alien to my niece and nephew, but I do think they got the idea. I think, at the end, they understood; you can learn a lot in school, but you can’t learn everything.

I worry, you see. I worry that as a culture we have forgotten the importance of self directed learning. I worry that learning isn’t counted if you don’t have a piece of paper to go with it. In our race to quantify and analyse we have allowed anything that cannot be easily counted to go uncounted. Were this movie to have been made today it might have been Ferris Bueller’s Team Building Away Day and Problem Solving Workshop. I deeply unappetising concept, wouldn’t you agree?

The fact is that play, unstructured time spent exploring and experiencing for its own sake, is a powerful aide to self development for everyone, whether you’re a teenager a toddler or a team leader. Body play, object play, imaginative and social play – these activities allow us to develop skills and capacities without stress and without fear of failure. Play breaks down barriers, conceptual, social, and physical. Play is our first and primary mode of learning. And it’s fun!

We all know this. Instinctively we know that play is good for us as humans and good for us as professionals. We admonish one another to find joy in our work and yet we boast about how hard we work and how stressed we are. I wonder how many of you would sanction your team to spend even a couple of hours of work time playing on a monthly basis. I’m not talking about a workshop with some fun elements thrown in. I’m not talking about a game that is, in actual fact, a training exercise. I’m talking about play for the sake of play.

I mean things like this:

  1. Bring in an improv coach and do some imaginative play
  2. Make stuff out of clay
  3. Get physical and do some mask work or dance!

Can you imagine doing these sorts of things with your workmates? I suspect many can’t and that’s common. You’re not alone if you think you need to stay serious to be a professional.

But here’s the thing, in my work I have learned that moments of silliness can be astonishingly powerful. Playing No Wrong Answers, for example, has been an endless source of amazing insights and learning opportunities no matter how bizarre I make the questions (and they can be pretty strange).

For my teenage relatives I wanted to instil an understanding that life is bigger than academic learning and that what they learn through their own curiosity and passion might be more important than anything they pick up in class. And that lesson goes double for my clients. You and your team can learn things in unstructured, playful encounters that you could never learn in a workshop or a classroom session.

Is Ferris Bueller a great example to follow? Perhaps not. He’s arrogant and gets by on his charm and wit. I suspect by now he’s either a hedge fund manager or a sad middle aged man still trying to hustle his way through life. But he got one thing right, there’s a lot you can learn by taking a day off.