You walk into a conference room and there is absolutely something you didn’t expect. An artifact from some one’s sense of humor. Are you prone to get angry or does a smile break out? Every so often I find myself getting into the details and weeds, or even a bit stuck because something is a little more difficult than first suspected. We are working pretty hard, we are also trying to do the right thing – the right way. Along that journey, are we sharing a great experience or are we just wearing ourselves and others down? I’ve seen storming and norming take place within a team, again and again. I’ve even seen direct competition. What is difficult is aligning and focusing on some of the same goals, and even making the means to that end a shared one. Just as ergonomics suggests we take a break now and again to remain healthy, we should remind ourselves to look up, and find something to smile Cheshire about every now and again; enjoying the work that we do, the value and service provided, the team around us.
Another Way to Communicate
Whether I have shared or listened to someone who has just surprised me with humor, There is an encoding and a decoding and a feedback loop which says I understand your message. Laughter or even a subtle smile conveys a language all its own. Not only do we establish trust, percieving something in a similar manner we are sharing analogies. A speaker will often play off the audience not just to see if you are paying attention, but that you understand the story or concepts that are being related in the same way. Also, if you’ve laughed with someone, you may be far more likely to share, be open, direct and honest with them.
Tempo and Interrupt
Humor is often pulling from one context into another. Something new. It can stop us in our thoughts, or bring us to a new level of understanding or perspective. Laughter,and the breathing pull us from a deep thought, or boredom and into a very active moment. The pace and pulse are quicker. Edward Yourdon’s book Deathmarch, used the term to describe the massive effort needed by the people on the tail end of a release process. The tempo never changed, there were no interrupts, no change of context, just endless work without reprieve. It burned people out. The reason we changed development frameworks was so that we would never experience this again. Being Agile means we should be able to change tempo, interrupt, and consider the impact to balance our appropriate response. Is our mental process able jump, skip, run, walk, and not just march to navigate the impediments on the proverbial mountainside?
Humor is often SURPRISING. A different point of view is conveyed. This could be innovation. Play is often a way to do this. There are companies that have ‘creative’ rooms and dedicated idea spaces. Take a look at some companies like Epic System’s who have made a tree house conference room, or Google’s famous office slides. These organizations clearly want to innovate, create and have fun while also working. Often a fairly innocuous way to introduce new ideas is through a shared humor. Whenever a coach, scrum master or team member shares this with us it is FAR more effective than constant criticism which often aligns people defensively against new ideas. The ability to try, explore, and balance as appropriate should always be valued and cause us to remain open to doing something better.
Characterize the communication for the team – Is a high percentage of their conversation about work and sprinkled with some fun and laughter… if so – congratulations. Breathe, blink and look up from the flat screen and what you are doing. Have a rapport with the people around you. We are sharing, growing while problem solving some fairly complicated work. I am not advocating any extreme, but as ever a balance. All work and no play isn’t much of a balance.
I once asked a team what they wanted to do for a team outing. I was not prepared and maybe a bit fearful of the answer. While I thought perhaps all of us might volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and build something together, -the team responded with paintball. I am a great enabler, and I can honestly tell you, that although I had some trepidation – I have never witnessed from this group such acts of valor, aggression, nor laughed so hard in a very, very, long time. Though just like in our real work we show off our lumps and bruises – the fun can be unforgettable. I certainly learned a thing or two about everyone that day, sharing an experience with the team, and never forgot to thank someone who had surprised and ‘taught’ me something. We are still focused on building software together, and we work pretty hard at it. That sense of humor is something that keeps us smiling while doing it.