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Effect of humor on project management

Speech held by Professor Marco Sampietro, SDA Bocconi School of Management at the NASA Project Management Challenge 2007.
Humour literature suggests that using or promoting humor during working time can have positive effects. Since projects represent important cost and revenue drivers for companies, it is relevant to understand the impact that humour has on projects. To conduct the analysis, projects have been studied along the main factors that affect their performance. First, the distinction between soft and hard skills has been used, than both dimensions have been broken down. In the soft skills domain, the effects of humour have been studied along these dimensions: leadership, negotiation, motivation, stress management, conflict management, team building, and communication. In the hard skills domain, the impact of humour on process, procedures and tools has been taken into consideration. Based on the existing humour literature, it has been found that both soft and hard skills may often benefit from the use of humour but shortcomings are also present.

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Effect of humor on project management

  1. 1. Effects of Humor on Project ManagementMarco Sampietro 07/02/ Project Management Challenge 2007
  2. 2. Agenda  Humor relevance and definition  Humor effects on soft skills  Humor effects on hard skills  Conclusions  Future researches NASA Project Management 2/21 Challenge 2007
  3. 3. The growth of humor studies (Source: PsycINFO) 1400 1156 1200 Publishe Studies 945 1000 800 600 464 400 171 200 101 93 105 0 3 3 4 45 0 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Years NASA Project Management 3/21 Challenge 2007
  4. 4. Relevance of the topic In the past humor has not been taken into serious consideration. Humor, while fascinating humanity since recorder history, has not led to the persistent pursuit of crucial knowledge. In the last 20 years psychologists and sociologists have taken a more rigorous and systematic approach toward humor. The study of humor at work and in workgroups is only at the beginning. NASA Project Management 4/21 Challenge 2007
  5. 5. Project Success and Humor: the Framework P R O Soft Skills J E Communication Hard Skills C T Team Management Leadership Methodologies S Conflict Management Procedures U Problem Solving & Tools C Decision Making C E Stress Management S Motivation S Negotiation NASA Project Management 5/21 Challenge 2007
  6. 6. Definition of humor Humor can be defined as a state of mind, as the quality of causing amusement, and as the ability to understand and enjoy what is funny and makes people laugh. (Source: Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture 1998) NASA Project Management 6/21 Challenge 2007
  7. 7. Communication People keep more attention toward speakers that use a humorous style. Humor improves the information retention. This characteristic can be misused: humor can remark or hide a concept depending on the way it is applied. Humor improves the persuasiveness of the communication. NASA Project Management 7/21 Challenge 2007
  8. 8. Team Management: Team Building Phase Humor is a non invasive way to test the relations and gives people that use it a parachute in case of bad responses. A positive response boosts the use of humor in the other team members, speeding up the socialization process. A joke can start a chain of humorous interpretations, giving the sensation of consensus among team members. Humor represents a shared interpretation of events that highlights similarities among team members and creates a sense of equality. NASA Project Management 8/21 Challenge 2007
  9. 9. Team Management: Detecting the TeamMorale The spontaneous use of humor is not always an indicator of personal or organizational well being. Humor is also used to respond to critical situation, to alleviate anxiety and fear. Humor is also a response to incongruities and contradictions. Spontaneous humor may be a signal of organizational ambiguity. NASA Project Management 9/21 Challenge 2007
  10. 10. Leadership A study shows that the use of humor by leaders relates positively to individual and unit performance. Good leaders are often humor appreciators rather than humor initiators. Leaders that are humor initiators often have a task oriented leadership style. Leaders that are humor appreciator often have a relationship oriented leadership style. Bad leaders hide part of their inability by mean of humor. NASA Project Management 10/21 Challenge 2007
  11. 11. Confict Management Humor in avoidance conflict resolution style. The coping functions of humor permits to lower the emotional involvement related to a situation and to change the dominant cognitive perspective. Humor in confronting conflict resolution style. Humor, mostly in the form of metaphors, shows the situation under different perspectives thus permitting people to deal with a broader set of alternatives. NASA Project Management 11/21 Challenge 2007
  12. 12. Confict Management Humor in smoothing conflict resolution style. Humor can be used to augment the positiveness of a situation, playing down differences and thus attempting to create a common ground. Humor in compromising conflict resolution style. Humor can be used to convey ambiguous messages to express ideas that, if communicated directly, would offend others. NASA Project Management 12/21 Challenge 2007
  13. 13. Confict Management Humor in forcing conflict resolution style. Humor can express hostility and aggressiveness. Embedding aggressive messages in a humorous form is perceived less risky for the sender and less hostile for the receiver but leaves intact the meaning. Not permitting conflicts to come to light can be dangerous, it has been shown that humor does not hide or suppress conflicts. NASA Project Management 13/21 Challenge 2007
  14. 14. Negotiation Humor increases the likeability of a communicator and liked communicators have more influential power. Humor lower the perceived importance of the object of the negotiation, thus conducting to greater concessions. In negotiations humor can thus play a double role, depending on the part one takes. NASA Project Management 14/21 Challenge 2007
  15. 15. Motivation Humor can influence sense of hope. Humor leads to a greater sense of self-efficacy in dealing with specific problems or stressful events. Humor works both on agency and pathways dimensions, producing an increase in motivation. NASA Project Management 15/21 Challenge 2007
  16. 16. Problem Solving and Decision Making External humorous stimuli can positively affect problem solving and creativity. Humor lowers tension and improves divergent thinking. In decision making, humor can reveal a negative effect related to the perception of risk. Humor tends to lower the importance of the discussed topic, thus, risky activities can be underestimated. The effect on hope and motivation may also play a negative role in these situations. NASA Project Management 16/21 Challenge 2007
  17. 17. Stress Management Humor, especially in the outcome of laughing, helps in reducing the negative effects of stress. Humor has also a positive effect on difficult situations because produces a cognitive shift that show them as less stressful and less emotional. However, this can be dangerous when the situation may cause risks. NASA Project Management 17/21 Challenge 2007
  18. 18. Hard Skills Hard skills must be learned and than applied. Humor and learning hard skills. Incorporating humor in lecture materials improves listeners/readers attention, their ability to set connections between concepts or find inconsistencies, and the information retention. Humor is strongly preferable in self- education activities. Humor and the application of hard skills. The focus shifts from the specific methodology to the way it is used. Using a funny approach is important during the introduction of new methodologies. NASA Project Management 18/21 Challenge 2007
  19. 19. Conclusions and Guidelines Humor can be leveraged as a managerial tool. The comprehension of its effects can be used to influence people behavior and thus project outcomes. Humor has not always positive meanings and positive effects, so trying to detect criticalities that lay behind humor is a non-trivial activity. Standardizing the use of humor can be counterproductive, it is better to promote a positive climate that produce spontaneous humor. Canned humor can be used but the risk to be unnatural could be high. NASA Project Management 19/21 Challenge 2007
  20. 20. Current and future researches   Use and effects of humor in multicultural teams   Learning humor   Humor dosage NASA Project Management 20/21 Challenge 2007