My first office at 3M was in the engineering center in St. Paul, Minn. The engineering center was probably designed by an engineer, and it showed. It was eight floors of vast cubicle farms with offices lining the outside walls. Every cubicle looked the same. If you were dropped off on the wrong floor, it might take time to figure it out. I also remember the strange white noise of the ventilation system, which might have been deliberate to wash out the sounds of hundreds of engineers quietly working. The place was never buzzing with activity. Instead, it felt quiet and dead to me.
So I decided to spice things up a bit.
While shopping with my wife, I purchased a small toy Nerf gun. I brought the gun to work and occasionally stood up from my office and fired a shot into one of my coworker’s offices. The response was very muted at first. Most did not respond at all, only waving to me as I went to collect my dart. One person brought me the dart and just smiled. I persisted.
Later in the week, I decided to wear my slippers to work. My slippers have large husky heads on the toes and look ridiculous with the standard engineering Dockers and button up shirts. I made sure to wear my slippers when I went to the basement during lunch where the company cafeteria was located. Once again, people obviously noticed but did not respond right away. I persisted.
Eventually, people on my team started loosening up. One engineer brought in his own Nerf gun and when I fired a shot into his office, he stood up with a much larger Nerf gun and opened up on me. I had a couple of small foam balls in my office, and coworkers took to playing catch while we brainstormed ideas. Our division level manager even lightened up a bit, allowing us to use a ping-pong table, which had been very well hidden in an abandoned office.
The fun opened up communication. People felt more comfortable with each other and with this comfortability, they let their guard down. They challenged each other. They defended each other. The culture of our team shifted ever so slightly.
My point in telling this story is to highlight the value of fun at work. Gallup’s Q12 study on employee engagement highlighted the importance of fun by identifying having a best friend at work as being a significant factor in improving engagement.
Go ahead. Have fun at work. It’s good for you and your team!
Don Harkey is a partner and co-founder of People Centric Consulting Group in Springfield, Missouri and provides strategic planning, seminars, public speaking, and resources for businesses and organizations. firstname.lastname@example.org