Humor boosts the bottom line. (Call it “funny business.”)

Scientific American examines what’s so wise about cracking up at meetings:

…Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen explored whether humor in the workplace might also help a corporation boost its bottom line. In a longitudinal investigation of team efficiency and productivity, they evaluated humor patterns in the regular team meetings of two industrial organizations in Germany, and then examined short-term and long-term outcomes.

To assess humor patterns, Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen first videotaped 54 different team meetings, each roughly forty-five minutes long, that collectively involved over 350 employees. If you find work meetings to be arduous and dull, you would not want to be on this research team, for the investigators then watched all of those meeting tapes and coded the team interactions. They were particularly interested in positive humor patterns, that is, upbeat, funny remarks followed by laughter. They intentionally did not include negative humor (sarcasm, put-downs) or failed humor (e.g., a joke followed by silence). After coding the humor patterns, they then evaluated what happened after the laughter.

You might expect humor to derail or distract a team, leading team members to be less efficient or effective. You would be wrong. Using a lag sequential analysis to understand temporal sequences in behavior, Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen found that within the meetings, humor patterns triggered problem-solving behaviors (e.g., what do you think about this approach?), procedural suggestions (e.g., let’s talk about our next step), and goal orientation (e.g., we should target this issue). Humor patterns also promoted supportive behaviors like praise and encouragement, and led to new ideas and solutions.

Critically, this positive work environment translated into long term gains. Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen asked supervisors, who were not present at these meetings, to rate team performance immediately after the meeting and again two years later.

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