Next time you say “all joking aside” in a team meeting think again.

Humour in meetings leads to better team performance according to a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The meetings of 54 teams in two German manufacturing companies were analysed for their use of positive humour. After sharing a few jokes the teams proposed new ideas, asked constructive questions and gave positive feedback. In general the good mood amongst the team meant that they were more open, productive and supportive – all very useful in building up collaboration between team members.

Also a bit of joking about in a meeting actually improved team performance. The 54 teams were rated on their performance straight after the meetings and two years down the track. Teams with more humour were better performing in the short and long term. This is probably due to better collaboration and new ideas the teams brought to their work.

While humour seems like a good way to improve productivity and collaboration, there was one exception. Add in some job insecurity then humour doesn’t have an influence productivity. When job security is threatened then people are thinking and worrying about their future, taking mental resources away from being creative and engaged in their work.

This study shows us that, during organisational restructuring dealing with job insecurity is important to ensure ongoing productivity and engagement. In a change process there is always a tension between the managers wanting to give as little as possible information out until they are completely clear as to what will happen, and employees wanting to know as soon as possible. Honesty in communicating about the change early on, even without complete information, will help put aside some worries and allow people to focus on business.

A senior manager once said to me when we were discussing how to increase collaboration that we should “…have a one or two public hangings…”. He meant we should make an example of some managers who were still acting like kings of their small silos by firing them. This research shows the opposite would have resulted. It would have created insecurity, lowered productivity and lead to people being less collaborative and creative. Fortunately it was a rather tasteless joke, no public hangings took place and we improved collaboration in a more positive way (link blog post).

If you need to enhance team collaboration or manage communication during change processes then contact me for more ideas.

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