How We Laughed...

This year eh?

A lot is being said these days about what comes next, an exciting re-birth and new beginnings and how to co-create a different paradigm in this new world of hybrid remote-and-office-work and it is all worthwhile exploration, but as you may have worked out, we are a lot more about the practical levers of change at PeopleNotTech than the theorising, so we thought we’d talk to you about humour today because if we are indeed entering a time of building, we’ll need it in spades to underpin our resilience. 

To me, one of the most awesome things to have come out of this tragic period we’re traversing is, -aside from the complete win in the humans and work department-, the amount of humour and comedic creativity we’ve witnessed.

Humans huddled around their only communication method, the internet, have created ample quantities of comedy. From the sweet to the politically incorrect. From the high production value (as high as lockdown allowed, some outfits were clearly unprepared!) to involuntary.

From the dad jokes to the dark sarcasm and black-hearted dry humour. From the songs to the TikTok challenges and finally - my favourite - the memes. Ah, the memes. I love them because they’re a split second of hilarity and common reference.

When you send one to someone else you are already implying something beautiful: that they get it, that they’ll get you and that you wanted to give them a dopamine hit

From my (extensive and unPC thankyouverymuch) collection of Quaranmemes the favourite ones have to be -aside from the classic “Choice B” which is all of us!- the “Who led your digital transformation: 1. CEO; 2. Chief Digital Transformation Officer; or 3. COVID-19”, then the one declaring “I’m getting tired of being part of a major historical event” and then the "2020 has been cancelled" one.

Chances are you saw those and went “HELL YES!” (ideally to yourself) and you felt a diffuse warm and fussy feeling after seeing some of those - that’s because they so intensely resonate and make so much sense to all of us. We all intuitively recognise it elicits the same reaction in many others and that sense of community, and commonality is precious.

Humour has immense unifying power. If it manages the shared understanding. The common language. The right tone. The resonance. 

Humour - when we share it and it lands, makes us feel not only connected but like we become a common team for a split second. Priceless. 

Of course, the opposite is true as well and for everything that tickles our funny bone there’s a lot more than falls sorely flat and if it’s attempted as an act of sharing it gives us a small moment of connection questioning and disconnect “Why is this person assuming I’d like this, who do they take me for?”. But even those moments bring us closer together as we recognise the bravery it took to share and that makes us stronger together.

We see a huge correlation between the presence of humour in a team and not only their engagement indicators but more importantly, their resilience. The mechanisms of pleasure and motivation are a lot more complicated than we should explore here but suffice it to say the dopamine hit we get from something that’s funny is not applicable to our own self only but to the team as well, and enough of it will reduce our stress hormones and increase the serotonin and endorphins (the happy ones). And better yet, a positive mood has been proven to be contagious. When we share laughter we solidify both the foundation of trust of the team and we strengthen the habit of being courageous as we now have faith it will land well and we don’t impression manage for fear of appearing in a negative light. 

Seeing how this is the case, one would think most “Chief Human Officers” out there have “Define and foster humour” as a key OKR in their efforts to bring permission to be human to the organisation as part of their fight to kit every team leader with a “People Practice” and EQ and every team with Psychological Safety. We hope they do. 

In the past couple of months, we got to meet more teams than in the whole year before them and I’ve been fascinated by their attitude and consumption patterns when it comes to humour in particular in these times of crisis. Some teams employ very little as a vestige of the old ways of work where “professionalism” involved a degree of being “serious” and emotionless but most use loads of it and while the quantity seems to be connected to the volume of work, how Psychologically Safe they are and how mature of a team they are (loads more in "Norming" and "Performing" than before if you wish) the “quality” is not measurable as everyone’s taste is so very different and so many other factors affect what each team finds funny. 

Product-wise this was a good lesson. The feedback to our hat-tip to humour (in the software, in between the questions we have inserted some light relief in an attempt to keep the tone relatable and used “demotivational posters” depicting common complaints about corporate work for this) has varied widely with some people absolutely loving them and some absolutely hating them. We’ve of course reacted by making it possible to turn them off so they don’t show up for a particular team anymore, but the lesson we learned was that it’s worth understanding as a team, what your humour style is because if you manage to hit the right note it has magical capabilities, whereas if you miss it, you’re burning human capital. 

One would be tempted to think that finding that common “funny” denominator in a team should be part of the Forming phase when the team first comes together, perhaps in a Scrum Team Launch session when we discuss and explore all other communication and social interaction contracts and agreements we should also include a portion that explores

“What makes us laugh?”. 

Failing that, seeing how most of us are past that point and part of an established team - here’s a proposal: before you do a whole “Our New And Old Ways Of Work” workshop -which you should do nonetheless across the board- take a breather and set your next “Team Action” to “Funny-bone Exploration Hackathon” and ask everyone to prepare their top 3 things that make them laugh and make the list most politically incorrect and unedited like they would post it on their Facebook wall.

It doesn’t matter what the list consists of - be it movies, comedy shows, YouTube channels, books, websites or meme collections - just have everyone in the team exchange theirs while focusing on which ones landed best with the team. We can learn SO much from a judgement-free humour exploration. Not only do we learn about each other which solidifies our bond but we learn we can be free and open with our team and unveil our most real self to the team and they will allow it and even enjoy it. 

Some more examples tomorrow in our video and next week we’ll explore what else we should include in our exploration of this new work paradigm we’re all building as we come out on the other side of this (hopefully temporary) nightmare humanity went through, but chances are that teams who laugh together - win together.

So if 2020 has indeed been cancelled, shall we think of the remaining months as one big intensive training season and a giant sprint planning blue-sky design session about “Re-designing Work” and start with a Team Re-Launch complete with “What Makes Us Laugh” exercise for 2021? Then we’ll be poised to start the sprint in immensely better shape and spirits. 

Stay laughing, Psychologically Safe and sane (in no particular order).

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