Why Laughter Is a Sign of Creative, Productive Teams
From time to time when I’m in a work group trying to solve a hard problem, suddenly laughter emerges. Those are the days I come home thinking that I’m part of an amazingly creative and productive team, and I feel engaged in my job. This feeling is probably not unique to me: A fun workplace is not only more enjoyable, but it may be more creative too, and something that identifies these creative groups is laughter.
In fact, studies show that laughter at work may improve team collaboration and stimulate innovation. The reason for this lies less in the actual laughter than in what is behind it.
Laughter is a sign that people feel relaxed and safe. People are reluctant to laugh—especially at themselves or their own mistakes—when they don’t feel comfortable and connected with those around them. There is also a somewhat circular relationship: The presence of laughter helps people on a team feel more connected, which in turn leads to a feeling of safety. Safety leads to environments that enable more idea generation and idea association, which is important when trying to solve complex problems. Safety is also an important element to creating an environment where people can be innovative, as fear of failure can inhibit trying new things.
One approach to improving connection and, thus, safety and creativity is to encourage laughter. Your physical environment can create joy, so some simple design changes in the office can have a major impact. Team-building activities also can help, and while it may seem like an off-the-wall suggestion for software professionals, improv can encourage openness, vulnerability, and creativity, all valuable qualities in an agile team.
You don’t want these activities to be the only safe space for fun, though. You want to create an environment where fun is a value and people feel comfortable enough to inject some joy into their day-to-day routine.
Team-building done wrong, however, can have the opposite effect, sending a message that fun is not integral to work. So don’t force it. Be careful that you are not using fun events as a distraction to real problems. That won’t create the safety that is at the heart of a fun, productive environment, and it could instead lead the team to think that management is either oblivious to or actively ignoring problems—which can certainly erode trust.
Having fun at work is more than simply a job perk. Fun can be essential to cultivating a creative, collaborative team that solves complex problems. And ideally, you should be having enough fun that you feel like laughing.