Putting the F-U-N in Dysfunction


I often ask members of my team if they are having fun. This is not the casual question that it may seem like, and the answer (body language and nuanced expressions) can tell me a great deal about what’s going on. Let me explain.

Regardless of the context, whether its the private sector, the public sector, an academic institution, a non-profit, or your own family, some “dysfunction” is part of any entity. Whether it’s caused by temporary circumstances, competing agendas, strong personalities, or personnel challenges, every organization has periods of time when they are not functioning at the optimum level, a time when things just feel harder.


These times are trying for employees at every level. Frontline and mid-level employees are frustrated by immediate setbacks, slow progress, or competing distractions. Senior leadership is equally as frustrated because they feel like they’re working in circles to find a solution or constantly struggling to push that proverbial rock up the hill. The worst part is that—sometimes—dysfunction isn’t any particular employee’s or group’s fault. Sometimes, things just go wrong. Sometimes, momentum ebbs and flows and you can end up in a rut.

Unfortunately, if allowed to fester, times of dysfunction can be a real detriment, inhibiting an organization from accomplishing critical goals or corroding its performance culture. There needs to be something to keep an organization together through the tough times, a “glue” that keeps employees engaged, happy, and moving forward through times of dysfunction.

For my office, that glue has been “fun.”


My team knows how to have fun. (Anyone who has ever sat in our reception area could tell you that.) Between the laughter, the sharing of food, the noise-level, the playful ribbing, my office has a camaraderie that is hard to ignore.

Just last week, my office surprised Executive Assistant Candace Carey with a bridal shower. Candace and her fiancée Ed are being married by the Mayor this Friday, March 21st in City Hall. While Candace stepped out on an assignment at a Fleet Department facility, our office kicked into high gear to hang up streamers, pile up gifts and cards, and lay-out an incredible spread of homemade treats. Former employees returned, current employees gathered, and in a matter of minutes 20-30 co-workers converged to wish Candace the best. With no direction from me, my team made every effort to treat the engagement like a special family affair.

And what would a family affair be without a few tears?

Candace cried tears of joy. Truly shocked, Candace proclaimed “I love all of you guys but I didn’t know you loved me that much.” Her reaction was priceless and fun.

Candice opening her cards and gifts.

Candice opening her cards and gifts.

Although Candace has been with us for a while, this environment isn’t only evident to long-term employees. In fact, Aviva Kaminsky, (a new employee of just a month) made special champagne raspberry cupcakes in the shape of a wedding dress for the celebration. And they were gloriously received by all. Clearly, the rich camaraderie was obvious to her too, and I’m glad it was, because they were the best cupcakes I ever tasted. (Seriously)

A wedding dress made of cupcakes by Aviva Kaminsky

A wedding dress made of cupcakes by Aviva Kaminsky


During the middle of the bridal shower, with everyone enjoying themselves and chatting, I took a quiet step back to watch my team interact. They were loud, they were funny, they weren’t talking about work, they were having fun, and I could not have been more proud. The entire experience lasted just a few minutes but the warmth and genuine emotion expressed was special. We have created a “fun” culture. And the best part of that culture is that it shows past our celebrations.

Our culture shows in how resilient we are in times of dysfunction. Working in government can be stressful (often for reasons out of our control) and it’s important to not let these challenges negatively affect our goals. I often talk about how we must be “Happy Warriors.” Not running from a righteous fight or ever shirking our responsibility to our citizens but ready to push through to make a difference. So, through snow, tedious projects, frustrating politics, or large-scale disasters, my team remains engaged, happy, and able to move forward because we have the “fun” to keep us together.

After the bridal shower, Candace told us that the Managing Director’s Office was like a family to her. I said, “Yep, and appropriately just like a family, we can be a dysfunctional one too!” Knowing that to be true, we had a good laugh.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Working extremely hard but also finding the fun in what we do. Showing love and compassion towards one another regardless of the circumstances. Using those genuine feelings to keep your organization together and to help get it through the tough times.

Don’t forget to ask, “Are you having fun?” It’s important that your team knows that it is important to you and should be an important part of a winning culture.

Is your team putting the “fun” in dysfunction?

Rich headshot 1

Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.



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