In last week’s post, I wrote about three important leadership lessons that you might forget to remember. One of the lessons was about fun — how you can’t make people have fun, but you can make room for fun.
One way leaders can make room for fun is by working on the things that take fun out of work. I’ve listed three examples of these — things that make work more fun, but aren’t about having fun — below. Could you improve on any of these?
1. Achievable goals & objectives.
From daily objectives to long-term strategic goals, there is nothing like the feeling of achievement when you complete all or part of a goal — alone or as part of a team. Achievement is fun. When leaders take the time to make sure goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Reachable, Time Bound), your actions communicate your commitment to setting your people up for success.
One of the most forgotten steps in goal setting is gaining commitment. Without a commitment from each member of the team, there is no team goal; it’s just your goal. Real commitment comes 1:1. When you ask 1:1 for commitment, team members are more likely to express objections or reservations than they are in a group setting. This is important for you as a leader because in expressing their concerns, they are giving you information about how you may need to support them. Gaining commitment at the start can also help later — as a tool to regain or reinvigorate personal commitment when motivation lags or in the face of unexpected obstacles.
We all know how “not fun” it is to feel like you’ve been set up for failure — or held to an unstated, unclear, or shifting performance standard. SMART goals help put you and your team members consistently on the path to achievement.
2. Shared priorities.
Imagine you’re the project leader for a strategic initiative. You’ve been told that everyone in the company is aware that this is a critical project, and other than customer related tasks, this project is priority number one. You feel eager to get started and expect everyone else to be, as well. But as you start talking with others and scheduling meetings, you find that some key players have three other projects on their list before yours. Your excitement & motivation fades. You feel defeated before you’ve started.
Now imagine these disconnects all over your company. (Maybe you don’t have to imagine because you are living it.) Could be as simple as one manufacturing work center making parts for a product that won’t be shipped until next week, while other parts of the plant need products from that same work center to finish their work today. Whatever your situation, these disconnects create interpersonal tension and unproductive conflict — the very things leaders are tasked to reduce.
Communication is the most common culprit. Communication problems come in many shapes and sizes, from not getting the message to taking action on assumptions. Communication might be the problem in your organization if people (or you) often say things like, “I didn’t get the message,” “Nobody told me,” or “I wish I had known.”
Sometimes disconnects are caused by alignment problems. I had a client where one of the senior leaders would go along with the group in executive meetings, but they would pivot when faced with resistance from their team. While this pivot had the effect of creating loyalty & cohesion in their department, it also penned that department against the rest of the organization, leading to drama, conflict, and distrust.
There is something about being part of a unified group of people that appeals to all of us. It makes work more fun, even when faced with obstacles, because you know everyone is in it together. Shared priorities promote feelings of unity.
3. Deal with performance issues.
People know what is important to you by your behavior — by everything you do or don’t do, and what you say or don’t say. When problems on your team, whether real or perceived, remain unchecked, your team makes meaning from your choice to act — or not. As a leader, you can not back away from your team’s bill of rights (e.g. to be heard, to be respected, and to learn by trial/error) or your company’s values. When team members behave in ways that are out of line, it’s your job to stand up for the line, so to speak. It is your job to make sure everyone on your team has the opportunity to feel that they belong. It always best to coach people privately, but there are times you may be forced to correct behavior in a more public setting.
When people come to you with issues related to other members of the team, thank them for caring about the team success, tell them you’ll look into it, and ask for confidentiality. Left unchecked, blaming can destroy teams. Investigate and report back. If the person reporting the issue breaks the agreement of confidentiality, deal with that 1:1 — and be sure to share the impact of their broken promise on your investigation. Be careful not to punish team members for being honest & sharing their feelings with you. You want them to be able to talk to you when they have issues so you can know of them and address them appropriately.
One common mistake is to coach the whole team when you should be coaching just one member. When you coach the team rather than the person, you (1) insult and discourage the team members who are achieving, (2) let the non-performing member off the hook, and (3) encourage more blaming because your team usually knows who they are being punished for. Instead, deal with the person 1:1.
Remember, you can’t make people like each other, and you can’t make people feel like they belong. Belonging is a choice. It’s an attitude — and you can’t coach good attitude. You can only demonstrate it yourself. When you take care of performance problems, you send a message to your team that they matter to you, as individuals and as a team. Feelings of belonging help people relax & bring their whole (and fun) selves to work.
Making the space for fun can be a lot of work — but remember: when your people are having more fun, you will, too.
PS: The next time you’re told, “if work was supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t call it work,” try out one of these quotes:
“If work isn’t fun, you aren’t playing on the right team.” — Frank Sonnenberg
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what their doing.” — Dale Carnegie
“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” — David Ogilvy
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