Web Reliability

24. Continuous improvement through laughter

Mitchell Kimbrough
Written October 17, 2019 by
Mitchell Kimbrough
Founder & CEO

I previously warned that there were parts of the Web Reliability Framework that were more subjective than others. We are well within the space of the subjective parts of the framework.

The idea that a team should hold itself accountable and seek continual improvement feels close to objectively agreeable. Who would argue that a team should monitor itself and improve over time? What is up for debate though is how to foster a culture of continuous improvement.

In my experience, the team that fosters a sense of humor is one that creates a space for the individuals within it to change continually over time for the better. Laugh at yourself and your frailties. Do so lovingly. Do so with charity. Do so continually over time and you will break down the barriers to improving upon and overcoming your old self.

Over the 20 years I have been in business, I cannot count the number of times that I have made my team laugh by making fun of my own failings. On a regular basis, throughout those years, I would get one of our teams into a no-win situation with a tight budget or tight timeline. I always did this because I had a deep-seated fear of disappointing a client. I had a deep inability to say no to people. Sometimes my inability to say no turned into money. On more than one occasion we have lost thousands of dollars because I could not say no. Fortunately, around me are people who have a sense of humor. They encourage me to laugh about this. In the later years of being in business, there's a running joke that I am not allowed to touch the money. Those who have been on the team a while, and that's most of the team, laugh heartily when they remind me that I am not allowed to touch the money. In this way, using humor, the team around me, made up of people I love and trust continually reminds me of a frailty that I am continually working on. The laughter, the act of lovingly making fun of a deep and painful frailty, seems to loosen and dislodge things. The embrace of humor breaks apart that which is stuck and toxic and releases it.

The team around me is empowered to joke with me about my frailties. And in turn, I am allowed to encourage them to laugh about theirs. The humor diffuses the tension, it reduces the friction and because of this, it makes ongoing monitoring and accounting for problems possible. Our sense of humor supports our effort to continuously improve.

Several times a year we have to remind Janet, the leader of the client side of the team, through a good solid ribbing, not to open up those spam email scams. One of her frailties is a failure to recognize online scams. Just like me and saying no, she forgets about her frailty and it recurs. Around her is a team who knows this. This team, over time, has developed the muscle of humorously reminding her of her frailty. Through this, she is supported and helped in her quest to continuously improve. The ongoing team conversation is the salve for mine and Janet's ailments. The conversation is made possible and sustainable through a sense of humor.

The team conversation driving continuous improvement is supported by humor. Humor is that constant mode of reminding each of us to not take ourselves too seriously. Humor reminds us and allows us to release attachments to old versions of ourselves. We can be motivated to serve well and faithfully, but we must do so with reduced friction. This means losing the attachments we have to serve well and be acknowledged for service. Humor allows us to break loose of the attachments, laugh things off, and throw off the bonds that create friction. It's the team that does this, through healthy, constructive, humorous conversation.