Organizations struggle with finding the right team building and team maintaining formulas. Many companies believe that by emphasizing the team and teamwork through repetition of overused mantras (i.e. There is No I in Team) and the strategic posting of team-oriented inspirational posters, that a culture of teamwork will somehow evolve and be maintained.
While most members of an organization strive to be a contributing member of the successful team, without true engagement and addressing of personal goals/motivators, the true benefits of teamwork will remain elusive. While there are many diverse methods for building lasting engagement and the resulting culture of teamwork, encouraging a culture of creativity and innovation should rightfully be a priority.
But haven’t we already worked through many important principles of creativity to help our team be more creative and innovative?
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be part of and observe many different teams at many different levels. Some of these teams were sports oriented, others were at a project team level, while still others were at senior management and executive levels. At times many of these teams exhibited virtually every form of dysfunction known to man, including having the unfortunate happenstance of a physical fight requiring the immediate summoning of security. Certainly these teams were in name only and certainly didn’t foster a culture of engagement, creativity or innovation. We could spend a significant amount of time dissecting these dysfunctional teams and harping on what went wrong. But we won’t because, after all, negativity breeds negativity.
I would rather focus on those teams that truly fostered a spirit and culture of teamwork and engagement. Since these teams varied greatly in their makeup and express purpose of being, it’s necessary to identify and focus on a primary shared attribute: lack of personal seriousness.
Lack of personal seriousness is not to be confused with overall lack of seriousness. The people in these teams took their responsibilities very seriously and were determined to have a successful outcome. What they didn’t do was take themselves too seriously. In other words, they were able to laugh at themselves and laugh together as a team.
As children, our laughter was free-flowing. There were very few worries, few responsibilities and no risk to laughing out loud. Then we grew up with all of the increased responsibilities and the ensuing quest for the corner office. Our professional titles grew to outsized importance. We segregated personal fun from professional activities. Laughter was relegated to social events and banished from the conference rooms. We strived to become industrial and corporate legends with all of the implied and requisite seriousness. But with all that seriousness, we forgot that being good teammates and team leaders requires more than just professional competence; it requires us to be personable and relatable.
There is something to a relaxed, contagious social laughter that has a unique bonding effect. “Laugh and the world laughs with you” is more than just cliché; it truly is also a basis for team engagement. However, this doesn’t require us suddenly to be stand-up comedians or even necessarily to be the life of the party. It does require us to not be so caught up in our titles and ambitions and instead let our personal guards down. If we can take ourselves a bit lighter, we will be able to laugh at ourselves and more importantly laugh with our team.
But how does laughter and even team laughter relate to creativity and to building a culture of creativity and innovation?
When we laugh, the physical muscular exertions involved set in motion the sudden release of endorphins. Endorphins are the brain chemical directly related to us feeling good. When we feel good, we usually find ourselves in a more relaxed state than we were previously.
We’ve already discussed the creativity inducing benefits of being in a relaxed state when we turned out the lights. Anything that puts us in a more relaxed and more content state, serves the purpose of lulling our subconscious and the “stupid” filter. When we take ourselves too seriously, we are actually raising all sorts of mental barriers. We are on full alert for anything that could breach our self-created veneer of professionalism without personality. Unfortunately, among the barbarians thwarted at the moat are those fleeting creative notions and ideas.
However, once we lower the draw-bridge and allow ourselves to not be so serious, the active alert is ended. We are telling our brain that it’s OK to let things through. When we then engage with our team in this new lighter fashion, it’s also likely that laughter will ensue at some point. We will then be engaged, we will feel good and we stand a good chance of having a creative idea slip past the “stupid” barrier.
In my role directing the global logistics of Steel Warehouse, I look forward to my end-of-the-week managers meeting. While there was always some new news to be shared with everyone, its secondary purpose was to allow for venting and catching up personally. It usually wasn’t very long before we were all laughing and laughing heartily at something or another. When the laughter subsided, we would be able to look at the remaining pressing issues in a much lighter frame of mind.
We weren’t always successful at finding creative solutions during those meetings, but somehow over the weekend, new ideas would suddenly be offered. We were then able to spend the following week considering and trying out the new ideas. Sometimes these attempts proved good comedic fodder for the following week’s meetings.
While some might argue that it was the relaxing nature of the weekend, I would argue otherwise based on the lack of ideas prior to my meetings. After all, the weekends were there every week so why weren’t ideas flowing then? I firmly believe that the lighter meetings served as a brain primer to set the stage for creative ideas to more freely flow.
1) We can be serious about our responsibilities without necessarily treating ourselves so seriously
2) Laughter is a key component to team engagement and team creativity
Written by Moe Glenner. You can view more articles at itmagazine.truckstop.com