Reverb 14 | December 17 | Work

Work: What sort of work did you do in 2014?

I work in a government cube farm that is probably exactly what you think of when you hear that phrase. Documents being drafted, emailed, redrafted, approved, published, and so on from inside the bowels of a gorgeous building filled with tiny, grey cubes. I will not bore you with that much, but to say that it fulfills me in ways that sometimes surprise and delight me.

The tasks I do are secondary, I think, to how I do them.

And how I do them can be summed up in the phrase I used this week in a presentation to upper-management:

It’s not fun to not have a little fun.

There seems to be a stigma that laughter in the workplace is unprofessional and distracts us from reaching our goals. And in my dissent to that idea, I share this anecdote:

I was asked to perform a process evaluation for a workgroup that had failed to meet the goals they had set for themselves to accomplish. Emotions were running high, there was a lot of tension in the group, and management was starting to notice that something seemed to be amiss. I was feeling quite unsure about walking in to this group at their advanced stage of destruction and couldn’t help but wonder if I was the unaware, sacrificial lamb.

When I walked into the conference room, I could feel the apathy and anger seething off team members and a general distrust of a sudden newcomer into the group. And this is to be expected, right? Who wants to admit their failures in front of a peer?

I started my brief presentation with confidence, relying heavily on a “fake it ’til you make it” strategy. I explained what we would be doing (a process evaluation) and how we would do that (a method called the ‘Six Thinking Hats’) and then I said, “I will be leading this discussion, but we will have some assistance from the Queen.” And I showed this slide:

six thinking hats

Each subsequent slide also had a picture of the Queen, based on which color “thinking hat” we were discussing.

Now, realistically, fourteen Powerpoint slides with pictures of a sharply-dressed monarch on them aren’t enough to turn a project around. But on this day it was enough to remind people that sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously. It allowed members of the group to let their guard down just enough to be honest with one another in the ways the project succeeded and the ways the project failed. Even though I used a playful, semi-comical method, we were able to achieve a very serious and important outcome.

All because we dared to just have a little fun at work.

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