You’re likely all familiar with Google’s “20% time” policy, where employees can use up to 20% of their time to work on anything — outside of their regular projects — that will benefit Google. This policy has led to many awesome things we use today, like Gmail.

If you were at PressNomics 2015 you likely heard the presentation about a company that takes one month out of every year to work on something ‘fun’ inside the company. This is something entirely outside their normal work, possibly even with technologies they don’t use and don’t plan to use in the future.

Yeah, I know you’re excited about this. It sounds totally awesome to delve into something new. I love doing this with my side projects that may or may not turn into anything (like learning Laravel) but are just a good brain test.

Danger, Will Robinson

Let me tell you about a company that does this. They take one week every three months and come up with something ‘new’ and exciting. At least the boss thinks it’s new and exciting.

Really, what happens is that the boss chooses the ‘new’ thing and then tells the employees what they’re going to be doing in pursuit of the new thing. The employees aren’t invited to provide input up front to help narrow down the choices or provide ideas.

That just means that the employees are pretty much doing exactly what they always do — work they are told to do.

Yes, some of the projects end up being interesting, but the employees are less invested because they never had ownership in the ideas. In most cases, the employees don’t look forward to the new, ‘fun’ projects because they aren’t that different from their everyday work.

This approach totally defeats the purpose of the ‘fun’ days, and likely does more damage than just working all the time would. Employees are reminded every few months that the boss doesn’t listen to them.

If you run a company and want to implement fun weeks of work, then make sure that you’re working on projects your employees want to work on. Put together a brainstorming afternoon a few weeks before and come up with five ideas, then allow your employees to vote on them.

Do the one that your employees want to do.

That’s going to help build the innovative culture you want.

photo credit: rob-young cc

2 responses to “Why that ‘fun’ project isn’t ‘fun’ at all”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    If you have talented minds in your company (hopefully, we all do), we should be getting their ideas of what to do or ways to improve. Otherwise, a great deal of their talent base is squandered because their ideas are continually ignored. Eventually, this leads to complacency.

    When there are extremely talented founders/leaders in a company, it is sometimes difficult to let anyone else push ideas forward. Perhaps some of this is ego, or the need to exert control. Whatever the case, it leads to the bright people that were recruited not living up to their full potential.

    A companies accomplishments are one measure of success. But I think that how many people you develop into leaders of their own is an even greater measure of success.

    It is possible to attract the best talent, but not be able to retain them, simply because their input and expertise is not valued.

    And no one has time for that.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Yeah I’ve worked at companies where it was all edict from the top and no real innovation from us ‘peons’. I didn’t last long at all.