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Are jokes the key to good collaboration?

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Are jokes the key to good collaboration?

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The issue of fun at work is one of those peculiar topics.  You’d imagine that if people are enjoying what they do, then they’ll be more engaged and productive at work.  Indeed, studies have shown this to be the case, with a recent paper revealing that happier employees were around 12 percent more productive than their sadder peers.

It isn’t always as straightforward as that however, and research has shown that trying to ‘force’ fun into the workplace can backfire spectacularly.  It transpires that doing ‘fun’ things at work only tends to work if the employees would normally find those activities fun outside of a work context.

So it’s interesting to read a recent paper that has taken the hypothesis around fun in the workplace and tested whether it applies in one of the more boring of workplace functions – the office meeting.  The research team wanted to take what had often become an academic exercise and conduct some real life experiments in team meetings to see what impact laughter and fun has on the performance of the team.

Making meetings fun

The research team recorded video footage of meetings undertaken in a German company that was undergoing an improvement drive.  By using the video footage, the team were able to ascertain the normal flow of interaction between the team members.

Perhaps not surprisingly, laughter would generally emerge after attempts at humor, although being German, not all of the attempts were successful (sorry – couldn’t resist).  This initial bout of laughter would then often be the trigger for more jokes, which would render the meeting a more colorful and humorous affair, which aligns itself with thoughts that laughter is often contagious.

Interestingly however, the laughter also had an impact upon the productivity of the meetings.  Meetings that experienced some joviality were found to be both more open affairs, with more ideas proposed and questions asked, but they were also more productive, with team members generally being more supportive of their peers.  This fits with thinking that we are generally more open to new ideas when we’re in a good mood.

What’s more, this good mood appeared to have longer term impacts upon performance, with employees rating their supervisors better up to two years after the fun packed meeting.  Indeed, the more laughter contained in the meeting, the higher the ratings tended to be for the managers.  The role of humor and laughter in tandem suggests that it is not simply the elevated mood or even the quality of the comedians that underpin this boost, but rather the give and take between members of the team that is the crucial factor.

Suffice to say, humor can often be a double edged sword, and jokes can often backfire and cause distress for those at the butt of them, which was something that this study didn’t touch on at all.  The study also limited its explorations to teams with participants that had been at the organization for a long time, so it’s unclear how things might alter with newer employees added to the mix that are perhaps not as comfortable with other members of the team.

It’s a fascinating area though and I’m sure will be the focus of more research in future.

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