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Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

Rich Diviney, a former Navy SEAL and leadership consultant, learned about the power of humour in the middle of the brutal “surf torture,” during his SEAL training.

He now uses the lesson to motivate and empower employees in corporate settings.

In surf torture, teams lock arms and lie on their backs in the shallows of a beach – feet toward the shore and heads facing the sea – as waves crash and recede and soak their heads. The exercise is one of many events in a six-day ritual known as “hell week” where aspiring SEALs undergo rigorous physical activities such as running and swimming with hardly any sleep.

On a cold November night some years ago, as Mr. Diviney and others lay submerged under six inches of Pacific Ocean water, shivering and in severe discomfort, an instructor with a megaphone called out that he had warm blankets, hot chocolate and doughnuts for anyone who wanted to quit. Many took up his offer. However, the man on Mr. Diviney’s right piped, “Hey! Do you have any chocolate-glazed doughnuts? Cause if you don’t have any chocolate-glazed doughnuts, I’m not quitting.”

Mr. Diviney recalls bursting into laughter. He says he knew in that moment they would both make it through the exercise. The man on his left was, however, appeared to be lost in his misery. And sure enough, five minutes later, he quit.

“When we laugh, we get jolted with three chemicals: two neurotransmitters – dopamine and endorphins – and one hormone – oxytocin,” Mr. Diviney said in a podcast. “When we’re in pain and misery, humour is a hack into keeping on going. When we push through our fear and are courageous, we get a dopamine reward, which has been designed as an evolutionary response to keep us pushing through. That’s why every single high-performing team I have encountered has a ‘class clown.’”

In a team environment, part of the resiliency process involves asking better questions in the moment, Mr. Diviney notes. Humour aids individuals to reset and reframe questions. So, instead of “why me?,” humour prompts people into asking, “what should I focus on?” and “what can I control?”

An Australian study of 2,500 employees found 81 per cent believe they would be more productive in a fun working environment; 93 per cent said laughing during work eases stress. A further 55 per cent said they would take less pay to have more fun at work.

Project Aristotle

Four years ago, Google studied 180 high-performing teams in the company as part of Project Aristotle to determine what they each had in common.

The project unearthed five common markers: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.

When Andy Walker, a former Google employee and software engineer, joined Skyscanner, a travel agency based in Edinburgh, he decided to test the effectiveness of the Google experiment on the 20 or more teams that reported to him. He found that, about two-thirds of the time, the main reasons the teams were struggling was beyond their direct control. It had everything to do with leadership and absence of psychological safety.

“As a leader, if a team in your scope is struggling, then first port of call should be a long hard look in the mirror,” wrote Mr. Walker in a blog post in Medium.

Psychological safety is when you make a mistake and it’s not held against you. It’s the safety or assurance a team member experiences when taking risks or expressing opinion.

In more detail, the other markers the Google project revealed were:

  • Dependability (when you can count on each member to finish quality work on time);
  • Structure and clarity (when expectations are laid out clearly);
  • Meaning (the team experiences a sense of purpose);
  • Impact (there’s a tangible proof the team’s work has helped the company’s overall goals).

Some researchers, however, disagree with the findings.

Psychologist Dave Winsborough and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at Columbia University and author of the book “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It),” contend that each member’s personality and role within the group trumps everything else when it comes to solid teams.

“Too often, organizations focus merely on the functional role and hope that good team performance somehow follows,” Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic and Mr. Winsborough co-wrote in a Harvard Business Review article. “This is why even the most expensive professional sports teams often fail to perform according to the individual talents of each player: There is no psychological synergy. A more effective approach focuses as much on people’s personalities as on their skills.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • You may want to rethink drinking orange juice with your breakfast. According to this article in Bloomberg Green, Brazil produces four-fifths of the world’s orange juice exports, half of its sugar exports, a third of coffee exports and more. But the crops were burned and then frozen this year. Then Brazil experienced worst drought in a century. Result? The price of Arabica coffee beans spiked 30 per cent over a six-day period and the cost of orange juice rose 20 per cent in three weeks.
  • Employees of Salesforce are not going back to the office, ever. Chief executive officer Mark Benioff made a big announcement earlier in the week: “We’re not going back, and that’s why we Slack.” According to CNBC, Mr. Benioff’s pronouncement that employees will not be returning to the pre-pandemic workplace is notable because it was only three years ago that Saleforce’s 61-storey office tower in San Francisco opened. The company also has buildings in other cities. Salesforce said it plans to foster employee camaraderie through events instead.
  • “Will you let a robot lawyer defend you?” this article in BBC News asks. Joshua Browder, 24, who lives in Silicon Valley, Calif., describes his app DoNotPay as “the world’s first robot lawyer.” He says he uses the robot to draft letters, and if you tell the AI machine that you want to appeal a parking ticket, it will suggest the best legal language.

More opinion from Globe Careers

Is conflating the return to offices with hybrid working creating confusion and angst in our workforce? As more companies firm up vaccination policies and children return to school, so too are many employees returning to offices. In what capacity colleagues are returning varies significantly based on two factors, writes talent expert Naomi Titleman Colla.

The pandemic has helped almost all companies realize that foosball tables aren’t the key to retaining talent At best, the perks just become part of the scenery, and often they are only appealing to a subset of employees, writes Rakuten Kobo chief executive officer Michael Tamblyn in The Globe’s Leadership Lab.

Beware of negotiations based solely on price Negotiations that revolve around a single issue, particularly price, can boomerang, writes columnist Harvey Schachter.

More from the section

Job postings requiring COVID-19 vaccinations increase With governments, the public sector and private businesses all announcing vaccine mandates for their employees in recent weeks, those policies are now spilling over into job postings at a time when employers are already struggling to find workers.

Can my boss expect me to answer calls and texts outside of work hours? In this week’s NinetoFive advice column, a reader asks to what extent should they be “on call.”

With her credentials, can this non-profit marketing manager find a new role with room to grow? In Resume Review, a reader looks for advice on how to move up in their career.


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