Playful leadership, management and strategy in Academia – Alex Moseley


1. What is the first things that comes to mind when reading the sentence ‘The Playful Voices of Academia’?

I’m a firm believer that play is open to all, and that everyone in academia should have a voice. This isn’t quite the same as the sentence, but the sentence suggests that there are voices to be heard, and play is the way we might both voice and hear them.


2. Why is play important in leadership, management and strategy according to you? When should leaders play? And how should/could they play?

Play has a number of characteristics that are valuable in academic leadership: open-ness, acceptance, shared bounds or rules, learning, collaboration, and acceptance of failure as a learning process. Traditional leadership models and methodologies rely on heirarchies, rules, reward and punishment: quite at odds with the play characteristics, and also at odds with getting people to work and think effectively.

By approaching leadership (and hence management and strategic development) playfully, these characteristics can guide a more effective approach. Heirarchies can be flattened; the whole community can gain ownership of a strategy, problem or solution; and learning – not failure – is at the heart of the approach.


3. What do you think play as a social activity, can do for higher education? Are there any concrete examples of playful leadership, management and strategy that can inspire others? 

I think we all work best, and get the most out of it, when we ‘play’ together. I’ve experienced this in:

  • teaching: breaking traditional heirarchies by working with students to generate new learning, with teacher as facilitator or co-designer.

  • research: bringing different disciplines together in a creative ‘sandpit’ or creative activity, to play with the borders around disciplines and create new ideas and approaches.

  • strategy: involving the community in strategy development through creative processes. For example, I’ve used both Lego Serious Play and a creative paper workshop to engage students and staff in understanding ‘belonging’, and to generate a set of guiding principles that underpinned an institutional strategy. Everyone who played together has ownership of the final strategy.


4. How can we, in your opinion, create a culture in higher education where playful approaches and attitudes, can support the leadership, management and strategy? And what would be the benefits if we succeed?

We need to promote the values of play in HE, and the value of playfulness.

The playful way to do this is to involve senior leaders in experiences that promote the values (involving them in playful activities with meaningful outputs, for example), allowing the approaches and outputs to contrast with other, existing, anti-playful approaches.

The benefits would be a more open, creative, accepting organisation, which was constantly learning, failing, and solving together.



5. What would YOU like to ask or read more about in relation to play, playfulness & academia (max 280 characters including spaces)?




Alex Moseley is Head of Curriculum Enhancement at the University of Leicester and a National Teaching Fellow; he is also a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Higher Education Futures, Aarhus University. He is a course designer, and conducts research in playful learning for adults in education and museums. He also teaches innovative courses in History, Archaeology and Museum Studies, and is a Certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitator. He co-designed the first charity alternate reality game, chairs the Playful Learning Association, and co-organises the Playful Learning conference.




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Alex Moseley

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