…and he learned how to be funny.

If you think humor is just for kids, shame on you.

Where most corporate types go wrong is in assuming that humor = jokes.  Or clown noses.  Or punchlines.  Fun can come in many different shapes, forms and places.

I recently returned from a motivational seminar on humor in the workplace for the Farmington Unified School District in New Mexico. (Actually, we met in Colorado…. just a few miles from their district across the border.)  I met principals and administrators who really liked the idea of “play” at work. I was able to help them find ways to transform their corporate humor culture and their funny bones in the process. However, as usual, the best humor at work ideas came from the audience.   

During the seminar, we looked at ways humor and levity could make any environment a little lighter — resulting in better productivity, morale, and retention. And, in a academic environment where things have to be very precise and “above the line”, it means that the administrators and leaders have to be more clever and more creative in finding the balance to make work and humor mesh.

Let’s face it, “starchy” leaders lead us to a lousy work environment. It is a leader’s job to set the “humor-meter” for their staffs and for the office. In the case of this New Mexico school district, they had NO trouble finding things to make them all smile.

* One of the principals did crossing guard duty (boring, right?) and decided to make up a game to goof off with his students. As you know, it doesn’t take much to get kids started anyway. So when a kid asked to cross the street, the crossing-guard-principal-man asked for their favorite color. The student replied, “Pink.” He tells them, “Ok, you can cross when the next pink car goes by.” Well, this creates much laughter and giggling because that’s only going to happen when the Mary Kay caravan comes through. Finally though, a pink car does come by and the kids do all they can to contain their squeals and giggles.

The next day, the same kid was asked the same question. What was their favorite color. Well the kids are smarter and have caught on AND they’re not willing to endure another flamingo parade, so he says his favorite color is…white. What does the principal do? He tells the kid “You can cross when 7 white cars go by.” The kids…crack…up.

The result? The kids had fun and bonded with their principal, plus it’s cool to see your principal dressed up in a orange safety vest, directing traffic.

But more importantly, the principal created levity that he enjoyed.  He turned the crossing guard duty to something he enjoyed:  it was a way for him to feel connected with his kids / end users / clients, it helped remind him why he chose education as an industry in the first place, and the smiles he earned in that safety vest helped him survive some of the icky parts of his job. 

My point?  Have fun at work. Not because you’ll get others to laugh or smile, or because you want them to listen closer – though these reasons ought to be good enough for anybody.    Have fun at work because it makes you better at your job.  These educators were better administrators because they actively made their work more lighthearted. That makes them better leaders, better managers and better educators. And in the end… isn’t that better for their students?

If you are educator, a school administrator or even a student, how do YOU make your fun at work? What was the most creative thing that you’ve ever done for a laugh. Care to share?

P.S. Thanks Farmington! I had a blast working with you in New Mexico!