1. Create a positive atmosphere
The first step is to create a positive atmosphere for your team. This can be done by promoting a culture of trust and respect. This means acknowledging mistakes without pointing fingers, celebrating successes, and avoiding micromanagement. When a mistake is made, the purpose is not to find a culprit but to learn from it and avoid its recurrence.
You can also help create connections within the team by organising team outings or simply systematically spending a few minutes chatting before meetings. My special trick to create instant connections: I like to search for my team members on LinkedIn before the start of a project to see if we have any connections. This can help me find common ground and make quick references to it when we first start working together (of course, I fully own my bout of LinkedIn stalking to my team members).
2. Use self-deprecating humour
Another way to create a fun project atmosphere is to use self-deprecating humour to admit to your mistakes and failings. Aside from making you more approachable, it will help de-dramatize mistakes within the team. However, it’s important to use this technique sparingly, as it can come across as self-pitying if you do it too often. When using self-deprecating humour, it’s also important to be genuine and to focus on your specific mistakes and flaws.
And of course, the crucial word in “self-deprecating” is “self” : just because you are willing to laugh at yourself doesn’t mean that you should laugh at others, even if they seem game! Let them take the initiative and follow their lead.
3. Use your creativity
Opportunities to add levity hide everywhere. One of my managers used to switch his meeting background depending on the customer, adding for example a curtained scene as background when having meetings with a customer active in opera and ballet. This is sure to raise a laugh or at least a comment from your team members. You may also think about a festive background to mark the birthday of one of your team members.
I suggest this background for an internal meeting about ongoing issues:
When having virtual meetings, I also sometimes create a quick fun online poll to add a new fun dimension to the conversation. For example, when discussing holidays, you may create the following poll :
This summer, I am going:
- To the coast because I love having sand in my knickers
- To the mountains because I wanted an excuse to eat fondue during the summer
- It’s none of your business you meddling madmen, I just want to go far away and leave you all behind
4. Introduce Gamification
Amongst other options, points and badges are a common gamification technique that can be used to track the progress of individual tasks or the overall project. For example, you could assign points to each task and then award badges to team members as they complete tasks or reach milestones. This visual and engaging way to track progress has been introduced in more and more project tools, such as Atlassian Jira, Wrike or Trello. When used correctly, gamification is an easy way to keep your team motivated.
Of course, you could also use gamification more punctually: in the case of a sprint that’s about to end but where all the tasks are not done yet, you could decide that the first person to complete this week’s tasks gets to decide everybody’s screensaver for the coming week.
The most important thing is to find ways to add fun that works for you and your team. Some people are more comfortable with jokes and humour, while others prefer more traditional icebreakers or gamification. There is no right or wrong way to do it, so experiment until you find what works best.
Adding fun to your projects should contribute to the main goal of delivering a successful project.
It’s important to use your judgment and to know when to be serious. Best not to try your newest joke on an overstressed Tech expert facing a serious issue. As always where humour or fun are concerned, timing is key!
I hope these tips help you add some fun to your projects!