Fun and Company
By Christian on Thursday 12 September 2013, 22:25 - Permalink
Here is yet another speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 11th of September 2013.
This speech was inspired by the following blog posts by Nancy Householder Hauge: Post 1 Post 2 Post 3 Post 4 Post 5 Post 6 Post 7 Post 8 Post 9 Post 10 Post 11 Post 12 Post 13 Post 14 Post 15 Post 16 Post 17 Post 18 Post 19 Post 20 Post 21 Post 22 Post 23 Post 24 Post 25 Post 26 Post 27 Post 28 Post 29 Post 30 Post 31 Post 32 Post 33
20 American executives from a big international company were in a conference room. They were listening to a very boring but very important presentation.
It was after lunch and the american executives were jet lagged and many of them had had a bad sleep. So, as you can imagine, after one hour, it was difficult for many of them to stay awake. Some of them looked at each other and pantomimed sleeping or snoring. But as the presentation was very important, Bob, the top american executive was doing his best to avoid being distracted and to stay focused.
One female executive then wrote a short note and passed it to others with the instructions to read it and pass along. One after the other the executives were passed the note, read it and then stifled a laugh. When the note reached Bob, the top executive, many executives were giggling or trying to suppress laughter.
Bob opened it and read the following: "If you drive your pen into your thigh, it will help you stay awake."
Then Bob rose from his chair, went to the back of the room and leaned against the wall. His shoulder were shaking. As everyone was starting to laugh, Bob left the room barking "Excuse me" and a bio break was declared.
The executive woman who wrote that note was named Nancy Hauge. In her blog, she wrote many stories like this about her experience in the Human Resources, HR, department of that big company.
In these stories we can see how important fun can be for the success of a company. So I am going to use examples mostly from her blog to answer the following questions:
First how can we make a company fun?
Then, why is fun so important in a company?
So first, how to make a company fun?
The obvious solution is that the company needs to hire and promote "fun" people. The problem is that it is not so easy to have many people who are fun, who help spread fun and who are also competent.
And an idea that doesn't work is to have only one person responsible for the fun.
In fact, one day the CEO of the company called Nancy and asked her to be the "CEO of Fun" in the company, because he saw that the atmosphere had become stuffy and that it had a bad impact on the company.
The problem with this is that even if the person responsible for fun can indeed do a few things to make it more fun, fun depends a lot on how everyone, especially managers are acting and which rules they set.
For example, one rule that Nancy's best boss had was: "Attenuate, do not amplify." She recalls that, after he stated the rule, people thought:
Who was he kidding? Even after looking up "attenuate" we didn't get it. Amplification was the tool of HR. Running around creating drama, screaming from the rooftops that the sky-was-falling was the currency of HR. How would we get anything done if we focused and dialed down the volume?
But the result of such rules was that people became more creative and more fun.
Nancy also says that they had free donuts every Friday morning and one thing that was very bad was when the management decided to stop offering these free donuts to cut costs. It sent the message that the company was not a fun company anymore.
It has been my experience too, that when a company stop providing free drinks for example, it is a bad sign.
Second why is fun important?
A quite obvious reason is that it puts people in high spirits and makes people more commited to their company.
One less obvious reason is that it boosts creativity. And there are other related reasons. Fun makes people more open, less risk-averse and it often makes problems easier to solve or at least it reduces their impact.
For example, Nancy says that at one point after a great guy she called an enabler of fun left:
... the HR function started to turn into the "personnel police," always saying no and taking everything much too seriously. ... the next generation of HR types started quoting the risks and securing their position power by making certain every manager was frightened of being sued.
At my work, I am in the "method and developer assistance" team. Sometime we realize that developers don't really need technical assistance but rather psychological assistance. The development environment is very complex and has some flaws, so sometimes a developer is angry about that and we have to deal with the situation.
At one point a female developer had to rework something at the last moment before it would be released, because it didn't work on one very old operating system that we support.
She said that it was hell to have to deal with such an operating system. I replied that the good thing was that 40 years from now when she will tell what happened to her to her grandkids, they will look at her with big opened eyes as if she was really a heroin, because it would be as if her grandmother had told her that she used to hunt mammouth armed with stone tipped spears.
To sum up it all, I would say that it is really important these days for companies to make sure people have fun at the workplace. This is because fun creates a great environment for creativity, problem solving and improvement.
But the way to achieve fun is not as straightforward as it seems. It depends a lot on all the managers, the environment and the rules they set. Though of course everyone can do something about it.