Too many people wait for leadership from the top when it is often in their own grasp. I’d like to share a story about when desperately needed leadership came from the middle.
I was working for a startup that was suffering from a layoff hangover from “right sizing” many months prior. As one of my co-workers described it we were like a girl trying to get skinny to attract the right corporate suitor. To us that meant no raises, no bonuses, and letting go of talented people that we liked. And until a wealthy Prince Charming came along we were on an extended crash diet.
A group of us decided to use the occasion of April Fools’ Day to do our part to boost office morale. We planned the caper for weeks, brainstorming ideas, making nefarious plans, and preparing gags designed to make people laugh without hurting feelings. After office hours on the evening of March 31, our mavens of mirth assembled at the office.
The next morning everyone who reached the third floor lobby found all the doors leading into the office marked with an official looking sign, complete with the logo of the building management company, that the doors were out of service and tenants would need to use the stairwells. Reportedly only the CEO and a few others actually believed the sign, dutifully took the elevator down and made the trek up the stairs.
Snacks were a frequent staple of the office and one tricky individual made two batches of cupcakes—one set laced with salt and another normal. The two were color coded and members of the team knew which was which, and professed that they all tasted just fine.
Dogs were permitted in the office and faux doggie doo was manufactured from clay and ground coffee, placed near the normal hangouts of the resident hounds, and festooned with plastic flies. The contents of a bulk candy dispenser were replaced with kibble.
We targeted good humored individuals as well. A soon to be bride found her cubicle decorated with cutouts from a half dozen bride magazines. A new employee had his meager belongings packed into a box marked “Thank you for your service,” with a picture of the CEO attached. The safety director came in for special attention and his cubicle was marked off with yellow safety tape and supplied with protective equipment. All letter openers and scissors in the office were boxed up and hidden in a locked cabinet. He had to perform a safety announcement over the PA system before the location of the cache was revealed.
Notes were placed around the office with clues to where supplies of snacks and candy were stashed. The riddles usually involved facts about fellow employees such as “Near the desk of the Cajun” referring to a developer from Louisiana or “Under the desk of the Beaver” referring to a graduate of Oregon State.
These and a half dozen other tricks had the desired effect. We had successfully hidden the identity of the team and each of us professed ignorance about the gags. By mid afternoon we were reporting to each other about the smiles, conversations, and general good feelings that had resurfaced in the office. The caper put people in a positive frame of mind for the first time in months.
I noticed that April Fools’ falls on a Sunday this year. But I suspect that fun perpetrated in the spirit of fun–but not discovered until April 2nd–would count.
Question: What prank have you pulled that helped improve the morale of a person or group?