Taking it all a little less seriously can be good for your project health
‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by’ Douglas Adams (Author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’)
You have to laugh; well I think you have to laugh.
Without a little bit of fun in every project then the project world can be a dark and depressing place.
Setting a professional but fun structure for your project can really be beneficial for when the problems start to rise up to challenge your plan of perfectness. And problems will inevitably arise.
In the years I have done many things to encourage team bonding, lighten the darker moments of project hell, and diffuse difficult project related situations. I have even accepted the full and complete blame for every problem, issue and challenge to a project in front of a room full of project team members, before walking outside and firing myself (in a loud voice, well voices – one mine and one me pretending to be my boss). The net result was a diffused situation, where it had previously been extremely confrontational between teams and individuals.
Done well this does not damage your status or authority but can actually be a very positive act in people seeing you a human being, and not just a project manager, and thereafter wanting to share a smile and a laugh with you during the day.
It is just the same in that hotbed of confrontation, the home!
Try looking at one of your children when they are in a really bad mood. Look them in the eye, with a serious face, and point a finger at them and say’ Don’t laugh! Don’t you dare laugh! If you laugh you will go straight to the naughty stair!’. I bet at the very least you will get a smile out of them.
My family finds that, even in the most stressed out, aggressive, emotional and ‘in your face’ moments, if you can make the opposition (and I use that term loosely) laugh then the war is soon over.
It is hard to kill someone when you are laughing.
Well I guess that is true except for some of the more extreme psychopathic (1) types (‘No, I expect you to die Mr Bond’ ... cue maniacal laughter).
Applying the ‘Productive Lazy’ approach
Start with a smile and a joke
A Project Manager and her principal architect and her chief analyst were having a lunch time stroll along the beach, as you do, when they happened upon a small brass lamp lying on the sand. Eagerly they grabbed the lamp and rubbed it and, of course, as in every fairytale, the giant genie appeared in a puff of magic smoke.
‘I am the genie of the lamp’ he proclaimed ‘and I will grant you three wishes’
He paused, as if noting for the first time that there were in fact three people staring at him.
‘As there are three of you then you will have to share the traditional three wishes. Each of you will be granted one wish each. Who’s first?’ he asked
The ever eager principal architect did not hesitate a second. ‘I wish that I was on a tropical island with sun, sand, clear blue water and palm trees, oh and with a group of nubile girls delivering endless cocktails.’
‘No problem’ said the Genie, and with a quick flash and a puff of smoke the architect disappeared.
‘Wow’ said the chief analyst ‘I wish I was in fast and expensive sports car driving through the mountains to my magnificent villa overlooking the Mediterranean, where I will drink champagne and eat caviar’.
‘Easy’ said the Genie, and with another quick flash and another puff of smoke the analyst disappeared as well.
‘And what is your wish?’ commanded the genie to the project manager.
‘Simple’ she replied ‘I want those other two back at their desks by 1:30 prompt!’
Make fun part of your project
We all know about the team phases, ‘forming - storming - norming - performing - mourning’ (2) – if you don’t there is plenty of information on the topic out there in ‘Google-land’.
Now I would suggest that to have a little bit of fun can really help calm the nerves during the storming phase when team conflict and competition can be high; it should be indoctrinated in to the norming phase as the team develops their working rules and processes; and finally, during the performing phase I am convinced of the value of fun in keeping the team at peak performance.
Here are a few ideas:
Working with a Canadian colleague we used to put ‘secret’ fun messages in presentations that we each gave. This allowed us to have a laugh or two, and in fact challenged us to put more and more difficult words and phrases in to business presentations without anyone else spotting something odd was going on. I extended this to a full project team once. No one knew that the others were in the ‘game’; everybody thought it was just them and me. It was very amusing. The meeting had a great feeling about it, everyone was happy and smiling. And yes, it was very productive.
You can do things like ‘It’s Friday’ the one day of the week when the team care share ‘funnies’ through email . This is good because it limits to a degree such emails to one day of the week and it should also make the team consider what is appropriate for general sharing rather than just sharing everything.
My current team all enjoy many happy moments, once a year, when we ‘talk like a pirate’ on, honestly, ‘Talk like a Pirate’ day’ . Check it out.
And here is my favourite ‘ice breaker’:
Place the group you have in to small teams of 4 or 5 ideally, any more and it gets a little difficult.
A flipchart or whiteboard is needed for each team (or at least a piece of flipchart sheet).
Get one person in each team to draw a large circle in the middle of each sheet and then draw a line out from that circle for each member of the team (so team of 4 = 4 lines).
Now ask the teams to discuss amongst themselves and identify:
• Three things that they have in common
• One thing that is unique to them
Try to guide them away from really easy things like football, beer, work, shopping etc.
For the three things in common get them to draw, no words, just draw the three common things inside the big circle. Then to draw the one thing that they have each identified that is unique, again drawings only, no words, outside the circle at the end of each of the lines.
Allow ten minutes for this and when everyone is done get the groups to remain standing and ask one person from each team explain the team’s results – for fun see if the other teams can guess the unique things.
This process a) avoids the creeping death introductions around the table and b) gets the group relaxed and knowing a little more about each other, it is surprising what you will find out about your colleagues in a very short time that you didn’t know before. I guarantee the results will be the topic of conversation at the next coffee break.
Practice safe fun
Obviously it has to be acceptable fun – don’t want to be ‘pc’ here but do be careful – think carefully about your team members, does your fun equal other people’s fun?
Also bear in mind there are times to have fun and times to be serious, you and your team must understand the parameters of this. And there may be members of the project team who just don’t want to have fun, make sure that they are not excluded or isolated from the rest of the team.
Make your fun smart fun
Now, when you have this whole ‘work hard but have some fun’ project underway the smart, and by that I of course mean ‘productively lazy’ project managers, will sit back in the comfy chair and let their project team self-generate the fun working atmosphere.
Done right you will have set the acceptable parameters for fun in your project, both in content and in extent, and you will have engendered that spirit amongst your project team to the point where, one day, when you are the one on a low, they will make come up and make you smile.
End with a laugh and a wave
A man in a hot air balloon was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted another woman below. He descended a little bit more and shouted:
"Excuse me madam, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am’.
The woman replied: ‘You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above alkali desert scrub habitat, 2.7 miles west of the Colorado River near one of the remnant populations and spawning grounds of the razorback sucker’.
‘You must be a biologist’ said the balloonist.
‘I am’ replied the woman. ‘How did you know?’
‘Well’ answered the balloonist ‘everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far’.
The woman below responded ‘You must be a project manager’.
‘I am’ replied the balloonist ‘but how did you know?’
‘Well, said the woman ‘you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise to someone that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow it's now my fault!’
Have fun on your projects.
‘And no Mr Bond, I expect you to laugh’
(1) And you already know how to spot those people don’t you.
(2) The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. This model has become the basis for subsequent models of group development and team dynamics and a management theory frequently used to describe the behavior of existing teams. Tuckman later added a fifth phase, adjourning, that involves completing the task and breaking up the team. Others call it the phase for mourning.
Check any policies that your company may have regarding non-business emails
This is not a joke, it is a real ‘International Day’ - http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html - have fun ‘talking’ like a pirate, using email ‘translators’ to create pirate speech communication, and even slap on an eye patch and a parrot to get in to the mood. Just for the one day you understand, any more than that and you are probably just odd.