There is no greater joy than encountering people having fun, except perhaps the joy of encountering people having fun at work. It’s a triumph in a work culture that still takes itself way too seriously.
The latter joy was mine just the other night: I was out for a walk in downtown Austin with my brother, who was visiting for a few days. In our meanderings we came upon the crew of the 5th St. fire station all gathered outside with the fire truck out and the ladder illuminated and extended. There was an orange traffic cone attached to the end of the truck ladder.
We found out they were training firefighters to position the truck ladder accurately through a game—the ladder operator had to complete a series of precision-based tasks, like ringing a bell with the traffic cone, or getting the cone to drop exactly on top of a nearby telephone pole. Each task was timed and it was a contest between those firefighters who were new to operating the ladder. They were gamifying the process of learning to learn how to operate the truck ladder with precision.
On the surface it’s a useless exercise—a firefighter will never have to precisely position a traffic cone to save someone during a fire emergency--but a less literal interpretation is warranted. The cone placement contest requires developing the same aptitudes as those needed to place the ladder precisely in a real emergency. There’s just a lot of added benefit to making it fun.
The easiest benefit to see was the camaraderie the gamification inspired. What is functionally a training for a handful of people becomes an immersive teambuilding activity. All the firefighters were engaged and invested in each competitor’s success, regardless of whether or not they had a specific role (like operating the ladder or timing the contestants). They were cheering their colleagues on, play-heckling them, or just enjoying the spectacle. It was a perfect example of natural teambuilding.
Another benefit of turning the training into a game was the injection of novelty. My guess is that in firefighting, as in all jobs, there are elements of monotony and drudgery. Any chance to break those up with something fun is a great opportunity to generate engagement with the work and the team who does it.
It goes without saying that firefighters have a dangerous and serious job. Making parts of it fun relieves some of the pressure and the weight of expectation.
In our efforts to be respected and taken seriously we often lose sight of this very simple truth:
Having fun learning how to do your job well doesn’t diminish the work that you do.
If anything, it makes your team stronger and your individual performance better. I’d personally rather have a cohesive team who has honed their skills and rapport through fun to be called upon to save me, my home or business than a team that has been trained through more traditional methods and lacks the cohesion that group fun brings.
Firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs out there. If they can find a way to train through fun, why not put fun to work at your organization?
ps for those too lazy to read, here’s an easy-to-share video: http://bit.ly/1NXN0oU