Organizational Development

How to Use Humor to Support Your Cohesive Team

There’s no getting around it…social change work can often be seriously draining. No matter what field you are in, there will always be those times when things get stressful.

I know that whenever I feel stressed, I’m not able to show my usual self and that makes things even more difficult.

So when I think about the work environments where I feel the most effective, they are usually the ones where the organization seeks to support all members throughout the year, and not only in stressful times.

One of the best ways to have a year-round encouraging organizational culture is one where people can express themselves and contribute their background to the organizational culture.

Whether this takes the form of creative design or finding ways to work beyond just the computer, the most important element is that group’s plan to bring out the best in their members.

In upcoming posts here at Organizing Change I’ll be looking at a few ways organizations can support member self-expression, but today I want to look at the role of humor and how it can help promote a more effective and collaborative team.

I used to have a strict division between work and the rest of my life when it came to using humor. I thought avoiding saying anything humorous would mean I was more focused and would help me accomplish my work better. Or I would think that it was “unprofessional.”

Then I realized I could use humor to actually support myself and my team.

I cannot remember the exact moment I started using humor more frequently, but I think it was around the time I gained more confidence in myself as an organizer. Once I felt more sure of myself at my work, then I slowly gained the ability to share my “outside-of-work” personality.

In my own small way I helped bring both a little humor to those around me and also encouragement for others to share a bit more of themselves. What made this work, was that I used a little bit of levity to elevate the level of energy in room, but without being a distraction.

Before I talk about how you can bring both high spirits and an increased focus to your group, let’s look at when humor can be detrimental.


When humor can have negative impacts


While my main aim with this post is to show when humor can be helpful to a group, there are also plenty of cases where it can be incredibly damaging. Below are a few ways and what you can do to counter the negative actions and language.

Humor can add to organizational stress. If the jocularity is ill-timed, forced, confusing, or communicated poorly then people can become frustrated or just be annoyed. Especially if things are already stressful, then you need to be considerate and use humor appropriately.

Humor can be oppressive. The Gender Blender Blog notes how humor often serves as a tool to normalize and perpetuate oppression. They continue by stating “Humor is used as a way to shame and silence people so that they fail to question or challenge the underlying meanings embedded in the oh-so-innocent joke.” In these cases we must be proactive in addressing the “jokes” and highlighting their impacts.

Humor can distract from the group’s main work. One of the most common reasons folks try to avoid humor is that they think it will distract from the task at hand, and in many cases it does. Excessive witticism should be tempered to a considerate level.

Humor can reduce creativity, if used to diminish an idea or forced. Humor can reinforce “the tendency to reject novelty and innovation” writes Wout Gijsbers. Or if forced, can be irrelevant and, subsequently, reduce others’ appreciation for your creative ideas. So we just need to ensure that frivolity is always genuine and supports those around us.


Why you should appropriately incorporate humor into your team


Photo: Sin Amigos via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Sin Amigos via Flickr (Creative Commons)

So now that we’ve covered some ways in which humor induce a negative environment, let’s see how to make it a wholly positive attribute of an organization.

Use genuine, consistent humor to decrease organizational stress. Getting people to smile can be a great way to help folks relax and thus be even more productive in their work. This in particular is an important way to limit the amount of stress before it even arises.

Stimulate learning by increasing laughter. A study published in the Monitor on Psychology found that classrooms that had the intention to make students’ laugh were helpful in “reducing anxiety, boosting participation and increasing students’ motivation to focus on the material.” These results directly apply to working with our teams.

Foster sharing and emotional expression through humor to build team cohesion. Wout Gijsbers notes that humor often serves as an “emotional glue” that unites team member during both good times and tough times. This occurs through “shared laughter” and “team spirit” that increase the sense of camaraderie.

Use humor as a tool for releasing creativity. It makes that if you’re less stressed then you’re better able to think of many different opportunities. That’s why humor has some of the most well-known cognitive benefits.

Every organization has a different culture, so you’ll need to carefully think about how it applies to your team. Just address negative humor and allow positive humor to express itself in the way that works best for your team

If you’re interested in looking at some other ways organizations can help support the self-expression of their members (e.g. spirituality, creativity), click here to sign up for updates on Organizing Change’s posts!

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+