Find the fun with authenticity, surprise, and variety.
Robert unmuted his microphone, leaned into the camera, and asked in a near-whisper: “How can we find the fun again?”
We were facilitating at the Inc 5000 Vision Conference, helping leaders navigate the challenges of a remote, socially-distanced workforce. Heads nodded. And a sea of sympathetic half-smiles and hopeful eyes filled the Zoom screen.
He continued, “My company culture was built on frequent social gatherings and my people draw energy and encouragement from one another. The fun isn’t window-dressing, it’s an essential part of their productivity–and without it, I worry about our future.”
As the pandemic’s socially distanced slog continues into the winter months in the northern hemisphere, you know how important Roberts’s question is for your team’s morale and productivity.
4 Ways to Find the Fun Despite the Slog
As we’ve talked with leaders around the world who can find the fun, four characteristics emerged.
1. Authenticity and Vulnerability
Vulnerability isn’t ‘fun’ per se, but it’s essential. Starting with “fun” without acknowledging reality feels disconnected or manipulative.
Transparency from leaders and team members about their feelings, acknowledging the reality you and your team face–these build trust and credibility. They also lighten the load just a bit.
And to get real for a moment: the pandemic slog is real. We’re living it. Close family and friends are sick. Friends, family, and clients have lost friends and family. Along with you, we long for the days when we can once again gather safely with loved ones or conduct training and strategic facilitation in person.
Those days will come again, but right now we face the slog. Frankly, it stinks and everyone’s tired of it. And …we can do it.
Over and over again we’ve seen leaders care for their teams, inspire morale, motivation, and breakthrough performance. This is hard; and you’re up for the challenge.
2. Varied and Individualized
In our conversations with leaders who are able to find the fun, a recurring theme is variety. The virtual happy hour was fun the first time, but the tenth one feels obligatory and routine.
How can you mix up your routine remote activities?
Perhaps you could start every team meeting with a different activity? For more social or fun activities, keep it fresh. Many teams have incorporated online games, themed events, and professional development into their mix of recognition and connection.
Another important aspect of variety is individualization. Recognize the differences in your team so you see and connect with people as they are. One CEO shared an effective way to do this in her company: periodically they take half-days for self-directed professional development, followed by brief sharing about what they chose and what they learned.
With everyone choosing their focus and learning, then sharing it with their colleagues, the activity is both individualized, varied every time, and connects team members more closely with one another in areas of passion.
An endless horizon stretching ahead forever is discouraging and, on top of pandemic-related anxiety, can lead to significant mental health challenges.
Give people something to look forward to will break up the monotony and energize performance. But don’t schedule everything – leave room for …
4. Surprise and Delight
One of the most powerful ways to find the fun is with the element of surprise and delight. Create moments of the unexpected where people feel genuinely seen and valued.
Recently, a client had a coffee meeting with Karin. He had pastries delivered to our home office ahead of the meeting. It was so unexpected–we rarely have pastries, and it brought so much joy.
Another client ordered a pizza to arrive at her team member’s home just as our meeting was wrapping up. That pizza brought so much joy that he sent us a picture just to celebrate the moment.
Surprise and delight don’t have to be about food. When people show up for a routine meeting, what can you do that would delight them? Make them smile and say “Wow, that was cool!”
You don’t need to rely on surprise and delight every week. If you do, it becomes routine–and the endless horizon returns. But every few weeks, how can you make people smile, feel seen, and do it in a way they aren’t expecting?
The slog is real. But so is your team’s resilience and ability to persevere. You can find the fun and energize your people with a combination of authenticity, variety, anticipation, surprise, and delight.
We’d love to hear from you: As you lead through these challenging circumstances, how are you renewing your team’s energy and morale?