If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I periodically talk about having fun at work. I truly believe when we make our workplace fun, our team members enjoy their work and their environment more. This translates into more productivity and also transfers to our clients. Trust me, even if it is just over the phone, your customers know whether your staff enjoys their work or not. So, you should be looking for any reasonable way to make the work environment more fun.
As a strategic planning facilitator, I am also looking for ways to break up the sometimes tedious nature of sitting in a meeting room, simply talking with one another. I use interesting and thought-provoking exercises to break up the brainstorming and ideation; most often, an evening of strategic planning is a good restaurant, perhaps with a good bottle of wine, and not much else. That’s how most CEOs want it–then there’s Larry Nichols, CEO of Member Driven Technologies (MDT). MDT is a credit union service organization (CUSO), providing data processing and related services to credit unions, primarily in the Midwestern states. He epitomizes the “make it fun” attitude.
A classic example was several weeks back at their annual executive leadership and board offsite in New Orleans. The evening started off with a double blind wine tasting reception, with the highest-rated white and red wine to be served later at dinner. Then we got a masters class in creating two classic New Orleans cocktails. (Did you know the word “cocktail” was invented in New Orleans? Thanks to Larry, I do!) Throughout the evening, Larry kept teasing us with the periodic announcement, “A surprise is coming.”
Next was a scrumptious dinner–nothing fancy, but it was clear Larry hadn’t chosen the cheapest items from the catering menu. This couldn’t have been the surprise Larry alluded to, though. Once we were done, and Larry suspiciously missing, we were directed back to the lobby of the hotel, where there were tables laid out with beads, shakers, and masks, all reminiscent of what you would see in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. We all grabbed beads, looking around and wondering what was next, and spotted Larry, who was sporting a very mischievous grin.
Then we heard it: a classic New Orleans jazz band. They were marching from another part of the hotel, and as they got closer, it got loud–really loud. There were probably 15 in the troupe, and they surrounded us in a march and eventually the whole group joined in the march with them. Then it happened: they marched out of the hotel, into the streets, and through the French Quarter. We had created our own parade!
As you can imagine, people were emerging from bars, restaurants, and hotels to watch us. We were throwing beads and generally having a smash up of a time. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all thoroughly tired, but it was all smiles as we realized we had been treated to something truly special. Think about this: our group was probably filmed by at least 500 people, and we were posted all over social media. There was nothing to identify MDT–that wasn’t the point. It was just to give us the experience of marching through the streets, to gather up a crowd (nearly 20 people had joined us in marching), and have fun!
Larry Nichols knows and recognizes how important fun is–perhaps that’s why MDT is ranked high among the best places to work in Michigan. What are you doing to specifically create an engaging and fun environment for work and meetings? These don’t usually happen accidentally. You have to plan to have fun, and you have to work to have fun. If you are senior leader, are you setting the example for your team by encouraging fun? It can mean the difference between being a good company and becoming a great company. Maybe you won’t have a jazz band march through the office (although that would be really cool!), but find some way this week to insert something engaging and whimsical into your everyday work environment, and observe the difference in staff and customer attitudes.
Also published on Medium.