I LOVE gardeners with a sense of humour, like the ones who create strangely shaped topiary or use unusual pots for their plants. You don’t have to go far to find examples. Right now, there is probably something fun on display at the Gardens by the Bay, where the Singapore Garden Festival is on.

To me this love of play shows the leaders of these gardens don’t take themselves too seriously. Even nature has a sense of humour — there are plants with unusual shapes, including one orchid I have seen that looks like a smiling bee! When you see that, you can’t help but be amused.

Gardening can be hard work, back-breaking at times. You need a bit of light relief or it all becomes just too much and you give up. Does that sound anything like being a leader? Of course it does!

While I believe leaders do need to be serious, particularly when faced with important issues, there are other times when they need to demonstrate their sense of humour and add a bit of fun to the work environment.

When I talk to frontline leaders I use a model of the 4Fs to help them identify the culture in their team. The Fs stand for:



•   What gets attention?

•   How is success measured?

•   Is it positive or negative?



•   How and when is it delivered?

•   Who delivers it?

•   What is the purpose of it?



•   What does it mean?

•   Who has access to it?

•   How is it viewed?



•   When does it happen?

•   Who gets involved?

•   What does it look like?


Some people question my inclusion of the fun dimension. They believe it is a “nice to have” aspect rather than an essential component.

I disagree. To me, the ability to have fun with your team is vital to increasing employee engagement and productivity. Think about the workplaces you have enjoyed working in. Chances are, one of the main reasons is the fun you had with your colleagues.

Of course, fun needs to be appropriate and within the boundaries of good taste and the law.

I am not for a moment suggesting you turn your workplace into a sideshow that loses the respect of your clients or creates a negative image in the marketplace. However, there are ways you can use fun to both increase performance and improve your image.

A famous example of an organisation that recognised the power of fun at work is the Pike Place Fish Markets in Seattle, Washington, in the United States.

If you haven’t heard of them you may know the book that has made them famous. It’s called Fish: A Remarkable Way To Boost Morale And Improve Results.

Written by Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen, this small and easy-to-read book tells the story of the fish markets, wrapped around four principles they use to turn a less than pleasant workplace into a tourist attraction.

One of the four principles is, of course, have fun. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you do.

If the fun is missing from your team, talk to them about what you could do to work on this important cultural dimension. Like a gardener who finds that people are attracted to his patch by its sense of humour but stay to check out his other skills, working on the fun in your team may well attract other people to work with you — whether they are team members or customers.


Article by Karen Schmidt, a speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. She is a frontline leadership expert who uses her workplace gardening philosophy to help grow frontline managers into frontline leaders.  For more information, e-mail karen.schmidt@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com