Make em’ laugh, make em’ laugh, make em’ laugh!

Increase Team Bonding with Humour and Being “Real”

“The shortest distance between two people is a smile”, according to Pianist/Comedian Victor Borge. That distance can be reduced even further when people laugh together. Think back to the last time you had a good “belly laugh” with colleagues, at work. Hard to remember? Whether it was just this past week, three months ago (or dare I say three years ago) the actual event of the “gut splitting group laugh” (and then, later on, the memory of it) can help see whole teams through difficult times. Days, weeks, months or even years later, the mere mention of that funny, particular “trigger” word, body action or staff event can transport all those who shared in the original laughter, back in time, and they are there again. When it comes to team spirit and team bonding, most anything that brings the team closer together is a “good thing”!

In our house, the 1950’s movie “Singing in the Rain” is a family cult classic. I was just a kid the first time I saw the scene where Donald O’Connor did all that silliness on the couch with the headless mannequin, while singing, “Make Em Laugh, Make Em’ Laugh”….and I laughed…good and loud and hard!

“Make Em’ Laugh” is an excellent motto for official (and not-so-official) leaders in the workplace, too! Yes, I suppose there are a few workplace issues and topics that don’t lend themselves well to humor. Plugging humor in, in those cases (just for the sake of it), would demonstrate tastelessness and poor judgment but, in many instances, a little humor throughout the day goes a long way to getting the positive work results you want.

The old management school of thought espoused that if you were laughing and goofing around at work, then productivity was suffering. It was the old “the workplace was no place for humor” philosophy. This same philosophy was evident in the mid 1990’s family movie, “Matilda” (an adaptation of a classic children’s story by Roald Dahl). Miss Trenchbull, the very mean and scowling Principal of the dark and dreary Crunchem Hall, dictated, “If you’re having FUN, you’re not learning!”. Many an “old timer” manager seemingly graduated from “Crunchem Hall”! Thank-goodness times are changing! More and more organizations are recongnizing the value and timing of humor in the workplace, and are working harder than ever to create internal events that help spur it on.

A “magical” transformation really does occur when employees lighten-up and laugh, together, along the way. That is one of the primary reasons why regular team meetings and branch or divisional professional development days and conferences, are a tremendously good idea. This is also why fine quality professional speakers or workshop facilitators spend significant amounts of design time thoughtfully and carefully choosing just the right “opener”, and just the right blend of humor and content throughout their presentations, to contribute to these organizational events.

Consciously champion and contribute to humor in the workplace to help your team elevate its commitment to one another, and to your branch’s or division’s purpose and cause. Create opportunities, which fold-in humor, for staff who do not work together in the same branch, but do work for the same organization, to help break “isolationist” barriers and increase inter-divisional communication and co-operation. One visual I use in my workshops on interpersonal and team communications shows two men at the stern (back) of a row boat which is taking on water at their end, frantically trying to bail it out. Meanwhile, in the same visual, two other men, at the bow of the boat, are tipped up out of the water, and, for the moment, are high and dry. The caption that goes along with this visual says (from the guys who are high and dry), “We’re sure glad the hole isn’t in our end of the boat!”.

Isolationist thinking and divisional arrogance can be the undoing of many an organization’s maximal success. I’m always amazed by how many conference participants come up to me after my keynotes or workshops, confessing that that row boat visual cut close to the bone for them, because it depicts exactly how it is in their workplace! They usually go on to say that discussing this visual with appropriate team members, and other colleagues, could be a terrific way to safely laugh at themselves, and then start some sincere dialogue on greater inter-departmental communications.

Laughter builds rapport, and rapport builds compassion and commitment, and commitment, over time, builds trust. It’s that simple. It’s hard to dislike someone with whom you regularly laugh! Try it and see!

Here are 4 simple yet serious suggestions for increasing laughter and rapport in your workplace:

1. Share Passages or Quotes to Create Dialogue: Sleuth out an appropriate selection of your funniest quotes and passages and place them within your daily line of vision, to serve as a constant reminder to yourself about how you wish to behave and interact with others. Consider having a “Round Robin” of humorous quotes, to which all can relate, at the beginning or end of each team meeting. Confess why your particular contribution strikes your funny bone and is pertinent to your team. At the very least, sharing quotes, or other humorous passages, will give you all a good, shared laugh; at the very most, these quotes may give team members an acceptable, valuable and important lead-in to team dialogue on tender issues that need to be addressed.

2. Use Visuals to Introduce or Underscore Important Points: eg. the row boat visual I mentioned above certainly does the trick for driving home the point, “we’re all in this together”! Try kicking off a team meeting in an energetic and interactive way, by finding an appropriate visual for the topic(s) of team discussion. Remove any accompanying caption, and have team members brainstorm as many of their own captions as possible (for this visual), for two full minutes. Share the original caption in your debrief. Try this in reverse, too. Have team members draw their own visual from a caption you provide (without any image). You can share the original image in your debrief, if you like or, perhaps don’t even bother with an image at all. Merely provide them with a topical caption, and see what visuals materialize!

3. Props, Goes the Leader: Look around your office or house for things that you can use to symbolically illustrate and strengthen key messages about important issues and themes that are to be addressed in your team meetings. As a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, I’ve successfully (and hilariously) used full cans of pop, balloons, play phones, Kosh balls, plastic dinosaurs and other frightening and sweet “beasties” from my kids’ old toy box…to poignantly drive home my messages. Even Babushka dolls can make a humorous and provocative point!

4. Team Member Reveal Thy Self: Self-disclosure is an important element for strengthening the bond among team members. Revealing appropriate personal information makes you three dimensional and more “real” in the eyes of another. Self-disclosure helps to reveal your humanity and that helps to inspire a stronger bond between team members. For example, it may be easy for you to honk your horn and wave your fist at the stranger doing something annoying in the car in front of you, but you’d probably be more forgiving, and less likely to aggress, if that same person (doing that annoying thing) was your beloved next door neighbour of twenty-five years! What’s the difference? You know him…and he knows you, and where you live, too! Relationship, shared history, and some good neighbourly laughs along the way…and the fact that you will see him again tomorrow, all make you think twice about acting in a way which would damage your relationship tomorrow! The same is true of work relationships.

Share appropriate, funny stories from your own family or personal life situations to help metaphorically illustrate workplace points, and create a deeper bond between team mates. It’s amazing how many “outside of work” stories parallel the workplace reality and profoundly hit the proverbial nail on the head. It does mean that, as a leader, you need to either be naturally comfortable with self-disclosure and “confessionals” (which may not always put you in the best light), or learn to get more comfortable with personal information sharing, as time goes by.

Of course, humor in the workplace should always be secondary to getting the job done efficiently and effectively, for the sake of the organization’s success and service to the client. The “funny” thing is…these two goals can co-exist! The least costly employee fringe benefit on any job is laughter–when fun is allowed, and humor is an acceptable part of an organization’s daily corporate culture, people want to come to work&and management and frontline staff, alike, are the most ideal conduits for making this happen.

Take a moment, right now, and reminisce about that lovely time when you and all your team mates (from the most favourite team you’ve ever worked with) laughed until you almost cried. Everyone can recollect at least one such story (I hope!). That happy memory will stick with you long after your retirement from the workforce and may, even twenty or thirty years later, put a smile on your face and a bit more of a spring in your step, at the mere thought of it. Just imagine how those few moments of laughter fuelled you to higher levels of workplace energy and productivity, back then, at that actual humorous moment? How much energy and productivity mileage did you and your fellow team mates squeeze out of that one moment, and for how long, afterwards? And how much more did you all like each other, better than ever, and therefore, get more done in less time because you took the time to laugh together? I rest my case!

As Barbra Streisand sang, in “The Way We Were”, back in 1974, “So it’s the laughter we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were.” Ain’t it the truth? Lead on and laugh all the way to Friday, each and every week!

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