Lead with Laughter
Startups can be grueling. The hours are long, your team is typically building something from nothing, and your days can be full of mistakes and disappointment. Getting your team to find humor in the grind brings them together more effectively than any other method I have found.
When I co-founded and became the CEO of Argyle, this wasn’t a lesson I had fully wrapped my head around. Over time, through a series of failures, it became apparent that levity in the face of setbacks made them easier to handle. Humor also helped me feel closer to the people I made those errors with. It strengthened our rapport and made those frustrating work moments feel less like waiting for your dial-up internet connection only to get a busy signal.
Argyle operates as a 100% remote company, so there’s no ping-pong table in the breakroom or free snacks in an overpriced Manhattan office full of Herman-Miller furniture. Instead, we traded in the dot com perks for a mutli-lingual, truly global company spanning four continents, 20+ countries, and over 30 languages. But in some ways that creates drawbacks. How do we camaraderie while working from home? How do we ensure burnout free video conferencing? How do our colleagues show-off their true selves without daily, happenstance interactions?
Addressing problems is at the very heart of a startup’s existence. Ruminating drives our mission and our products, but a constant state of analytical thought can also drive you crazy. We counter malaise through unlimited PTO, setting our own schedules, and trusting each teammate to meet their deadlines. But a generous benefits package isn’t enough to create the satisfaction our team needs to thrive in their jobs and lives.
Following our Series-A funding round, we decided to create a Twitter account to broadcast the announcement. Compared to starting a company from the bottom and nurturing a product to market, this task seemed like small fries. “No problem,” I thought to myself, “I’ll handle it.” Everything started out well enough, and then Twitter asked for our birthdate. Naturally, I put in the day Argyle was founded. Seconds later, I realized that action flagged us as underage, forever locking the account.
This could have been a moment of crisis, but instead, we all laughed, made a new name (@withArgyle), and put in my age instead of the company’s. I got to make fun of myself, didn’t blame anyone else, and it brought us together.
That reaction is critical in flipping the failure script; by recognizing the absurdity of the moment, we dismantled the disappointment and leveraged it into a workplace culture. Humor has the additional side effect of endearing us to one another, as well as a host of other benefits like:
- A sense of safety with coworkers
- Cohesion through bonds, inside jokes, and connecting us beyond our work
- Improved mental health (encouraging people to be themselves and not take things too seriously)
- Lightness, ease, and enhanced group dynamics
- Vulnerability and relatability, making it clear we’re human first
- Conflict resolution (the less disgruntled someone feels, the more likely they are to compromise or avoid conflict altogether)
- Creativity (being in a good mood is one of the surest ways to enhance that elusive spark in our frontal cortex)
- And even productivity and analytic precision
The benefits are physical, too. When we laugh, we increase our levels of beta-endorphins. These endorphins have the ability to make us feel better in the moment while improving our immune system’s overall health.
Sadly, by the time we’re twenty-three, our rate of daily laughter drops precipitously, going from 300 times a day when we’re 3 years old to a discouraging three times a day when we turn 40. The good news is, evolution has wired us to laugh, all we need to do is remember to unlock it.
As the leader of this company, it is my responsibility (and prerogative) to set the tone and culture. If, as executives, we can find the humor, we give our employees permission to join us and relax a little. Shepherding that environment isn’t just something that’s nice to have; it’s an imperative tenant to improving business productivity, employee retention, and long-term learning. When we inject humor into our meetings, presentations, and communications, we are reminding our teams that deadlines are critical, but so are you.
Thanks for laughing @withArgyle.