What fun does for productivity, collaboration + brand

This interview with Cat Weise, Root + River Chief of Staff, delves into the idea of light-heartedness and its power in the workplace.

“Be daring enough to put silliness on the schedule.” – Cat Weise, Root + River Chief of Staff

Our delightful and serious chief of staff recently shared this juicy tidbit of advice on our Instagram feed, to a moderate amount of head scratching.

What could she possibly mean by mixing something we call “work” with something called “fun”?

Luckily, she’s going to tell you.

Q: Cat, what do you mean by ‘being daring enough to put silliness on the schedule?’

Being silly at work is way underrated! Too many leaders get bogged down with their “get sh*t done” list and they fail to create space for their people to connect through fun.

It’s a huge missed opportunity!

Q: What do you mean by “create space for people to connect through fun?”

Let me give you an example. You know when you are traveling and maybe your flight is delayed. Everyone is in a crabby mood and inconvenienced. People are snippy and sarcastic. But then, the pilot or flight attendant does something funny or silly and makes people laugh.

It disarms people. Immediately, you see the humanness in other people. The air is lighter and everything seems a bit easier to accomplish, even if it’s a long wait.

The same holds true at work, too.

Once humor is introduced, it becomes much easier to make connections. A team spirit starts to form and people begin to share information and collaborate with ease.

You see people start caring about their work and caring about each other in a new way.

The team also begins to care about the leader in a new way, too. The leader has shown them they – and their emotional needs — were more important than the to do list.

Q: When you say “silliness,” what do you mean by that? Is it goofing off?

No, silliness is the infusion of fun. It can be a moustache Monday, or a beach ball with thought-provoking questions written on it, tossed around the office. The questions don’t have to be silly – they can relate to your core mission, or what they are up to today. It doesn’t have to be goofing off, it can be a creative way to engage people in what they’re doing or the larger initiative.

Q: We get that. So what type of an impact do you think silliness or fun has on a workplace overall, when a leader makes it part of their usual routine?

People only show their silly or fun side when they feel safe. When people feel safe with each other, they can collaborate, they can rely on each other, they can work together on a common goal. The language changes from “I” to “we.” It also shows the humanity and relate-ability of the leader. When you can relate to your leader, you will do anything for her. You’ll give your best.

When people can have fun with one another as a team, it’s contagious. Your clients, your customers see how much you enjoy what you do. It’s an invitation for them to engage with your brand and be part of it.

Q: Can you give me an example of this?

I personally love Starbucks. Every time I go to my local Starbucks, the barista makes my 3-year-old an ice water with his name on it. You should see his face when he picks up his drink! They’ve just made a customer for life. I’ve also noticed that the team there is always giggling with each other and making jokes. They also have drinks ready for people as soon as they get in line – before they have even ordered. The good feelings they share for each other as a team seem to flow out to their customers as well, inspiring above-and-beyond behavior. I see all of these as an extension of fun, but it begins with a leader being willingness and committed to people truly having fun at work.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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