Let’s face it. Life is serious — much of the time. That is all the more reason to be serious about increasing the “fun factor” in your business. With all the time and energy you spend at the office and with employees, if you aren’t having a little fun, and if they aren’t having a little fun, well then. Isn’t that sad?
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. In his seminal work, “What Effective General Managers Really Do“, John Kotter points out that good leaders spend much of their time in informal conversation and will effectively use humor to break tension, increase self-awareness or lower other social barriers.
I worked for a CEO who was great at this, and purposeful about injecting fun into his company. Once a year he would rent costumes, dress his senior staff up in zany outfits, and have them serve lunch to the whole company. When the company Controller, dressed as Princess Leia, asks, “Would you like cauliflower or broccoli with that?” somehow he becomes a lot more approachable! I continued that tradition in another company with an Octoberfest celebration (with our largely Hispanic workforce). We served soft pretzels and root beer while wearing Lederhosen. Just plain silly.
Most companies have some sort of holiday party. There are lots of ways to make those events more fun. Like, say, giving it a theme. Or involving some competition and offering real prizes. I know a guy who did just that for his small business. They had a theme party with a lip sync competition every year around the holidays. There were lip sync judges and cash prizes for the winners. The year I went the theme was “Rockstar”. The owner provided a stretch limo, a red carpet, photographers and screaming fans. His employees dressed the part. Later some of them performed along with him in a lip sync performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Now that was some serious fun.
I know what you’re thinking. You can’t afford fun. But listen. Fun doesn’t have to be elaborate. In my office we’ve had ice cream sandwiches on hot days, and started off our Monday staff meeting with the best SNL clip of the weekend. Have you ever declared an “Office Olympics” day or week? Just thinking up the events is fun, never mind the actual competition. March Madness pools and office fantasy football leagues are other low cost ways to have fun, a little friendly competition, and the chance to get to know another side of the folks you work with.
When your team really enjoys each other at company outings, fun is magnified. I have had a blast fishing with team members in Lake Michigan during an offsite meeting. I’ve played paintball, whirlyball, trivial pursuit and croquet — all with members of various teams I’ve worked with. Getting folks out of their normal routine into an environment where everyone doesn’t know what to expect, or even what to do, can lead to awesome results and great memories. Team members who have fun together will likely be more collaborative, creative and patient with each other in a crunch.
The very best leaders effectively use humor to diffuse tension and put people at ease. I worked with one leader who understood the effect his position and reputation had on people. He had a great story about one of his first jobs — he was only twenty years old — driving a barge. He was carrying the Governor, Lt. Governor, and camera crews from 3 news networks. He ended up crashing the barge into the dock, throwing everyone in the lake! It was a perfect story to tell when he was in a crowd that didn’t know him well. Not only did his wit and humor come through, but it was a very self-effacing story, and it put those around him at ease.
Food is another fine way to lighten the mood. I’ve seen companies have bake-offs, Chili Cook-offs, Burger Fest, you name it. One of my clients had “Crock Pot Week” where each day several people brought in their best crock pot meal and then the voted for the one they liked best at the end of the week. All of these events help you to build community and camaraderie. They break down the hierarchy in the office (the best cooks are rarely the “bosses”) and help everyone to be more human with one another.
When, through fun, we lower social barriers, wonderful things can happen. Instead of knowing the VP of Sales, or the receptionist, or the owner; you discover someone who makes the best chili you’ve ever tasted, or reveal an incredible athlete, artist, or musician in your midst. You might find a terrific dry wit in an employee who is typically on quiet and soft spoken. Think of it: your employees could discover someone who — judging by the performance in the lip sync contest — should have been a rockstar.
What do you do to build community at your company? How do you celebrate successes? Send us your stories, and pictures if you have ‘em!