Project Managers need to be Jesters

We all know the saying Time flies when you’re having fun.  Are you helping your team’s time fly?  No matter how serious your project may be, it is still necessary to bring some levity to the situation.  Allowing the team to take a ‘life or death’ view of the project can be detrimental to the well-being of the team, and ultimately the project.  As the leader of the project team, it is your responsibility to make sure that your team can have a little bit of fun while they spend the majority of their time working with you.  As the Project Manager, it is sometimes necessary to put on your Jester Hat, while still maintaining the level of professionalism that is required.

via Flickr by E. E. Piphanies

Positive Word Choices: One of the best ways I’ve learned to help my team maintain a positive outlook is to constantly use positive words, regardless of the situation.  During one of my projects, the company was in bankruptcy, and many people were leaving the company.  This made it extremely difficult to work on the project, because we’d lose Subject Matter Experts, Testers, and Technicians so often, it sometimes felt like it happened every day.  Whenever I would get news that someone else had left, I’d respond with a single word – Fabulous. My tone of voice was not a happy or excited one, but I chose to use a positive word in the face of a negative situation.  At first, my team had a hard time understanding what I was doing, but took it as one of my (many) quirks.

Over the months of the project, the word “Fabulous” became the team’s motto.  People would count how many times the word ‘fabulous’ was spoken during Status Meetings, and people started to respond to negative situations with the word Fabulous almost instinctively.  Did it look like we weren’t going to finish the requirements on time?  Fabulous.  What do we need to do to make it happen?  Do we need to schedule another all-day workshop in a location that is only convenient for half of the team?  Fabulous.  Let’s pick a day that we think will have less traffic.  Did we just encounter some necessary scope creep?  Fabulous.  Let’s figure out how to work it in.

The word itself has very little to do with anything, but having a ‘fun word’ to use during a not-so-fun situation helped the team to rally around and tackle each situation as it came up.  Sometimes, when tensions were high, someone would simply shout the word “FABULOUS” and get a calming giggle from the rest of the team.  I was told later that I was heartily mocked for my pervasive use of the word, but that it really did help the team.  While others may have been insulted at being the target of such mockery, I was happy to put on my Jester Hat and allow the team to have a little fun.  I think it’s fabulous.


Bringing Fun into Meetings:  I have found very few people who enjoy meetings.  In fact, I found a quote by Thomas Sowell that demonstrates the general view of meetings quite perfectly:  People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.  However, I think that meetings haven’ t been given a chance to prove what they can be.  The problem is not with meetings themselves, but with the people that attend them.  If someone decides that they hate meetings, every meeting that they attend will be an arduous process that almost never ends well.  If that person is conducting the meeting, then it is almost guaranteed that none of the attendees are going to enjoy the process.  These are meetings that rarely accomplish anything, because many of the required attendees don’t go to the meeting.

via Flickr by MNicoleM

So how can you turn that around and run meetings that people want to attend?  Simple – make it fun!  Bring a sense of humor and levity to the meeting.  When people call in, greet them with a cheer!  Start every Status Meeting by acknowledging accomplishments from the week before.  Recognition of a job well done is great for morale, and puts a positive spin on the rest of your meeting.  Also, maintaining order in meetings and not allowing side-conversations to take up too much time is an important part of keeping your meeting attendees engaged in the meeting.  I’ve heard a number of codewords that are used by project teams to point out that the conversation has gotten off track, but I’ve got two favorites that are very funny while still getting to the point:

  1. E.L.M.O – (Enough, Let’s Move On)
  2. Shiny ball (I think we all know how easy it is to get distracted by shiny things rolling around)

When you ensure that your meetings stay on track, you are showing the attendees that you respect everyone’s time by not allowing the meeting to go long regarding subjects that don’t necessarily affect everyone in the meeting.  When you do so with a sense of humor and levity, you are not overpowering the people who got sidetracked – simply guiding them back to the predetermined path, otherwise known as the meeting agenda.


Generally, projects have a reputation of being overly stressful and almost always ending in a ‘Death March’.  Don’t allow your team to fall into that trap.  Put on your Jester Hat and do everything you can to keep the project team amused with what they are doing.  By helping your team maintain a reasonable balance between amusement and stress, you can improve morale and productivity at the very least.  You may even keep some stress-related health issues away from your valued team-members by allowing them to laugh every once in a while.  Remember, a happy project team is a Fabulous project team!


1 thought on “Project Managers need to be Jesters”

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    Good point, Abby! There’s no shame in enjoying our work. And there’s evidence that enjoying and having fun increase creativity by a factor of 3 or 4. Of course there’s always a risk that your company will deduct $500 from your paycheck for each day at work that you’re not miserable, but it’s worth the risk. ; – )

    Keep it real! Keep it fun! – Scrappy Kimberly

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