Friday, June 29, 2012

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people

Victor Borge

Indeed. There's nothing like laughter to overcome the distance that hierarchy, social position or such can create. It's simply impossible to laugh with someone, laughing so hard that you cry, and at the same time keep a distance like treating her/him with a title such as Doctor.
But can you use humor in a project context? Although there are some things to avoid, there's not much to it. It's pretty much like Nike's slogan: Just do it!
And by the way, this article's title is a quote from this gentleman on the right, Victor Borge. He knew all about humor.
But why not...

...give it a try...

...and start by watching this Monty Python sketch taken live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1982, it's under 4 minutes and it's really worth watching:

Do you now feel more interested in reading the rest of this post? If you do, I just made my first point: humor takes barriers down.

Things you can try

There are loads of stuff you can do to lighten things within your project team. Here's a few to start your mind going:

Play the worst songs you can find

I actually used this on a complex project a few years back. We were working really hard to make a deadline, working after hours everyday and even some weekends. But you know how that is, right? So what I did then was to find a way to kick everyone out of the office this particular Friday at 6 PM as they deserved some rest. And I played the worst songs I could find to kick them out. Just listen to this to see what I mean (although this one is in Portuguese it really makes no difference, bad songs are as international and multicultural as it gets):

At first people were kind of mad because there was so much to do and they couldn't work while this was playing. Then on the next Friday people just left when I started playing the music. But after a few Fridays people would bring me songs they found and they were even proud when I played them!
Bottom line: for starters, we got the project team to leave the office on time and rest a bit; and we build connections between us that would probably never develop any other way.

Ads glued on my computer screen

A couple of months ago I got this idea of gluing those ads in small pieces of paper that people give you on subway entries. For some strange reason, most of them are for astrologists and alike (each promising to solve any kind of problem from computer virus to difficulty in getting pregnant). I don't if this is common around the globe, but we have a lot of it here.
This gives an excuse to say something like "Let's call Master Voodoo" each time we have a situation that defies a rational explanation, which lightens things.
The amazing thing is that people participate and bring me the ads they find! I just got 2 new ones today, I guess I have to get a larger computer screen now... again, new connections are made.

Repeat stupid things

Why not ask "Do you want that with fries?" when someone asks you to do something? Or ask for 10 euros to do whatever someone is asking you to do? Or say that you accept bribes. Anything silly or/and out of context will do the trick as long as you will do it systematically.
After sometime you'll be surprised to see people repeating the same things you say. And you know what? It works! It does lighten things. And it does bring people together. You cannot imagine the satisfaction I got when I received an email asking me for something and in the end asking me for my bank account number so they can transfer the 10 euros. It does work!

Nevertheless, pay attention in what context you play with such lines: I can easily imagine an early retirement for asking  "Do you want that with fries?" or corruption charges if in the wrong context. Also, there is no way to get to everyone this way. Some will always look at you as a bit silly. Or at least there will be someone that doesn't take you seriously. But it's better to have part of your team closer to you than to have everyone at a distance.


Don't come up with poor excuses like "I don't have a sense of humor". Everyone has one.
Be careful not to hurt anyone's feelings. People can be very sensitive to religion (oops, I guess I pushed it with this Monty Phython's video, sorry if that's the case), race, politics, football (or soccer) and a great deal of other things that would probably surprise you. So play it safe, start with the people you get along better. And then the others.
Also, don't expect to get everyone closer to you. Some will always find these things awkward.
But give it a try. If it works with part of your team, you'll get them closer to you through this one more connection. And it really pays the effort.

In a nutshell, humor lightens things and brings people together.

And I'd love to hear from you if you have some situation you can share where humor was used in a team.

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