Nerf darts & Community: The place of fun in building a culture of trust

My office is quiet, really quiet. Jen, my wife, refuses to come in the office because she thinks everyone is looking at her for making too much noise. Most of us are heads down, headphones on, working most of the time. Every now and then there is a flare up of noise and laughter when suddenly there is a flood of Nerf darts flying through the air. What causes these flare ups could be any number of things: someone needs to blow off some steam, someone wants to annoy (in the best possible sense) another co-worker or any of a dozen other reasons could cause a flurry of Nerf action. Not everyone participates, though most everyone has some form of safety glasses.

For a long time I resisted for reasons I’m not sure that even I understand. Maybe it was a need to feel serious at work or maybe it’s because I’m a jerk, either way my resistance kept me out of something that is ultimately fulfilling. Everything changed when I read this tweet:

My college senior portrait. Really.
My college senior portrait. Really.

Thinking on this I realized that whatever it was that was keeping me from playing was also keeping me from fully engaging with the people I spend most of my awake time with. I promptly went out and purchased a nerf blaster (they’re not guns, really) in front of my slightly flabbergasted son. He couldn’t understand why I would need a toy gun… er… blaster for work and frankly I’m not sure I did either. It took me a week or so to take my first shot, but I was hooked – or re-hooked as it were. Yes, I was a recovering Nerf junky and have gladly fallen off the wagon.

Work can be a drag, even at the greatest workplace on earth. Despite popular opinion when you work at what you love, what you love becomes work and not so much what you love anymore. At some point it becomes just work. Find something you can enjoy when it’s work. The thing that makes any workplace bearable is being able to have fun.

The reason we become friends with people is because we can have fun with them. Friendship is hardly utilitarian, I have friends I’m not even sure why I’m friends with other than we shared some laughs once upon a time. Nonetheless, it was those times of uniting over laughter that allowed us to create a bond that allowed us to delve to a deeper level, to deal with crap when it showed up, to support each other in times of struggle. Generally people don’t dive straight into supporting someone they don’t know through the darkest times of their life and then become friends.

The ability to have fun at work allows for the development of trust that will get you through stressful times. In an unfun environment stress will break a community, in contrast a relaxed environment will flex with stress. Yes, there are a lot of factors involved in getting through difficult times, but I would argue that having built a relationship of trust through fun is a key component.

You’d never think that getting shot in the head with a nerf dart would result in more care and desire to be helpful, but it has.

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