Leaders Create Fun at Work

October 30, 2017

Not many people believe that fun can truly coexist at work. Work is supposed to be serious business and should be taken seriously.  As a Navy cyber defender, I am part of a team in charge of defending the U.S. Navy’s networks and systems; therefore, what we do is paramount to our country’s national security, and therefore many may feel that having fun at work may appear as if we don’t take our mission seriously.

Additionally, for many, work is not supposed to be fun. Work isn’t a place where people go to play.  It is work for a reason. It is serious business. There are laws and ethics that need to be followed, and many times, profits or even lives are at stake.  One of my teammates recently told me, “If you want to have fun, take a vacation and go to Disneyland.” I was taken aback at first, but his sentiments are common among many in government service.

I think differently. I believe fun at work can and MUST coexist in the workplace, not just for increased morale or job satisfaction, but to address two of the significant challenges we currently face: retention and innovation.  These challenges are not just in the Navy, they are common among many organizations and businesses across diverse fields.

I am fortunate to be a part of a team in which fun is a visible priority. We enable people to be engaged with each other because fun engagement breaks down barriers. One of the things I love about my work is that I get to create opportunities where my teammates can have fun while at work. And I am able to participate in it during our monthly Thinkshops. We design this course specifically so that fun happens while also learning to think critically, solve Command-specific problems creatively, and collaborate together.  I believe fun is closely tied to innovation.  Yes, even when it is “mandatory fun” which is sometimes needed for a group of information technicians (ITs) and cryptologic (network) technicians (CTNs) Sailors and civilians (also known as nerds and geeks).

Over the past year, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Sailors and civilians have fun at work as they tap into their creative side (sometimes quite awkwardly), collaborate with people from other departments and divisions they don’t typically interact with, and generate out-of-the box innovative ideas to solve everyday problems faced at work.

At the end of the course, participants complete feedback forms for continuous improvement. I look specifically for the phrases, “I had fun when…” or “I enjoyed…”.  What follows are the conditions that create a fun environment: Fun happens when participants feel safe to be truly honest, authentic, and creative. They are not ridiculed when being silly and that ALL ideas are accepted and considered despite how crazy they may at first appear.

As leaders, it is important to set these conditions and set the tone that allows fun in the workplace if we want to attract and retain top talent on our team. When teammates are engaged they are less likely to want to leave.  Others who hear and see who we are and what we are about will be attracted to us, and our current teammates will stay and be committed to each other, the team, and the mission.

If the tone is merely “we need to ask permission first” or “let’s get the job done”, we will suffer as will our mission because it will soon become irrelevant as innovation is stifled. What I have seen in our Thinkshops is increased collaboration, productivity, and creativity.  The fun we have created has not been frivolous activities that simply increase morale. Over the past year and a half, we produced multiple outcomes to include improvements to our onboarding processes; developed new ways for junior teammates to publicly recognize their peers; improved and modified required Navy programs and training so that they are more meaningful; and soon, we will implement specific measures to hold our workforce accountable for cybersecurity practices. All of these outcomes were generated by a mixture of new and current teammates, and most importantly, by junior personnel, NOT senior leadership.

As our team settles into the rhythms with our new leadership, it is incumbent upon the leaders across the Command to continue shaping the culture that we actively started two years ago – a workplace that promotes engagement where teammates are connected to each other and fun remains a visible priority.  A fun culture will have dedicated teammates committed to each other and a mission that continues to thrive and evolve as they innovate through everyday problems.  I am committed to my team as we continue to evolve. It has personality, a vibe, and I continue to be focused on doing great things while having fun doing it.

Reflection:

  1. Do you find value in having fun while working?
  2. Are you currently on a team in which you are having fun?
  3. What opportunities are you creating for others to have fun at work?

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