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The Art of Invitation: A Lesson from Charades for Increasing Workplace Engagement



Have you ever gone to a dinner party, and someone says, “who wants to play charades?”

You hate charades, you never know what to do, you often feel silly, and you don't like doing embarrassing things people will talk about and “insta text” to everyone out of context.

Someone has gone first, this is their play and they love it. They have a thousand ideas, and they start, and laughter and confusion and competition unfold.


So, you sit in the background and watch for a while, and at some point, you realize that you know the answer. You think, "how can they not get it? How can they not see?"


The answer is obviously, you know it is “umbrella” and you shout it out-loud … and something happens.



The Infectious Nature of Play

The effect of being around people in play is infectious. In fact, it cues a part of our brain that is driven to mimic and imitate. Play sends belonging cues and an invitation to be a part of something, even when you are standing on the outside.


It is different, however, receiving the invitation to play or being invited to play versus being forced to play.


If in that same game of charades your partner pulls you to the front of the room and says “you go first”, and you don’t want to do that, you will not be in play.
It will be like being put in front of a stage of people with a microphone in your hand when you had intended on being in the audience.

After that experience, you will often not go back to anything that looks like charades again because charades feels like sweaty palms, fear, and embarrassment, which is very different from the feeling of involving yourself when you are ready, at a level that you are prepared for.


The Corporate Parallel


The parallel is this: as we build strategies for organizational culture, we often put people in front of the room with a microphone in their hand versus inviting them to watch from the sidelines until the invitation feels, well, inviting.


Not everything has to be an invitation in business, or education, or healthcare, but we have proven time and time again that shaming people into action or behaviors you expect almost never results in optimal performance.


Imagine if, in your workplace, you felt invited vs convinced or obligated to look at things differently or told "here is the solution!" vs. invited to build solutions.


The Key to Organizational Effectiveness


Getting to know your team and what makes them feel creative, confident, available to new perspectives, and safe to explore new ideas is the key to organizational effectiveness and efficiency.


You may think this takes more time and could be inefficient…but how much time are we spending right now on initiatives that we have to repeat over and over again because they do not move people? They only change the font on policies that do not resonate.

Inviting Innovation and Respect


What if we signaled more often: "it's ok to play now, to fall down, change directions, do something unheard of, in a different way". How long would it take if people felt valued and valuable for their input to do things in a way that made them feel respected and heard?


In conclusion, the essence of a thriving organization might be closer to a friendly game of charades than we think. It's about finding that delicate balance between giving people space to warm up to a situation, while also encouraging them, at their own pace, to participate.


So next time you are deciding on a strategy for your team or your organization, remember the lesson from the charades game at the dinner party. Make the invitation appealing, respectful, and open, and you might be surprised at the positive, enthusiastic, productive response that you receive.


Brandi Heather

Speaker, Expert Educator and Therapeutic Play Specialist

Restoring, Retaining and Re-engaging Your Caring Workforce


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