Take the time to build community

Why making time to play at work isn’t a waste

A group of adults are scattered around a ballroom of a hotel for a professional development workshop. But instead of sitting at tables half-listening to a monotone speaker, they’re laughing, cheering, and… making bear faces at each other.

“Okay, great! Everyone who’s still in it, turn back-to-back with your new partner.” LearnZillion co-founder Eric Westendorf, mic in hand, is standing at the front of the room. “Everyone ready to cheer your person on? Okay, one, two…” And on three, teachers leap to face each other and strike a pose: Karate Girl, Bear, or Indiana Jones. 

See Karate Girl in action.

“Ohhhh!” half of the room groans as people are eliminated. The other half of the room cheers as the rest of the teachers advance to the next round.

Eric’s back at the mic. “Everyone who won in that round, raise your hand and find a new partner!” Laughing and cheering, the teachers find new partners and get ready to play again.

This is Karate Girl in action. 


So why take the time to build community?

Professional development is integral to what we do at LearnZillion. At trainings, we’re providing teachers with the expertise and tools to offer each of their students with the education they deserve. Not a small undertaking.

And at these trainings, we don’t play games to waste time. Instead, we’re purposefully building community, one growl or karate chop at a time.

We’ve done it in cafeterias and classrooms; with 10 people and with 200. The goal (and the end result) is always the same.


Author Suzanne Goldsmith, in her book A City Year: On the Streets and in the Neighborhoods with Twelve Young Community Service Volunteers, says:

“Communities are not built of friends or of groups of people with similar styles and tastes, or even of people who like and understand each other. They are built of people who feel they are a part of something that is bigger than themselves: a shared goal or enterprise, like righting a wrong, or building a road, or raising children, or living honorably, or worshipping a god. To build community requires only the ability to see value in others; to look at them and see a potential partner in one’s enterprise.”

At LearnZillion, our mission is to champion teachers.

We believe that taking time to have fun and laugh together enables teachers to see each other as potential partners in this important work through taking risks and being vulnerable. It’s okay to lose at Karate Girl, and there are lessons in that loss that teachers can apply to their work together.

Responsive Classroom, an organization that works to create caring and supportive school environments, defines this practice as ensuring that everyone in the community feels a sense of Belonging, Significance, and Fun. These are the essential ingredients that enable people (children and adults alike) to work hard, try new things, and take risks in their learning.

So taking 15 minutes to play a game together actually turns out to be a small investment that pays off hugely.


Want to try it out?

Simply put, Karate Girl is a live action, whole body version of Rock, Paper Scissors.

Karate Girl strikes a karate pose and beats Indiana Jones

Bear raises his arms and growls and beats Karate Girl.

Indiana Jones shakes his whip and beats Bear.

How to play

Players team up in partners and turn back-to-back.

On the count of three, partners turn and make the motion of their chosen character.

The winner advances to the next round, and the loser follows the winner to cheer them on.

As the game progresses, players will have bigger and bigger groups of cheerleaders, as each loser joins the group of fans cheering on the winner.

The final winner is declared “Karate Girl!”


But playing Karate Girl isn’t the only way to forge a bond between a group of people working together. Simply choose a favorite game, and make the time to play it.

Be clear about WHY you’re taking the time to play and have fun together! People are often so busy and have so much to get done that it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like having fun at work is wasting time.

And don’t forget to dedicate time post-play to discuss any benefits people are feeling: increased connectedness to co-workers, stress-relief, wanting to be at work because it’s a happy place, etc.

Have any favorite games you’ve played in a work setting? Let us know in the comments!


Kathleen Sheehy is the Director of Academics at LearnZillion. She begrudgingly admits that she doesn’t know how to whistle.

Professional Development