How do you develop a culture that is fun but also demands the most for employees? We strive to create an enjoyable work environment, but we don't want the quality of work to suffer as a result of a laid-back atmosphere.

Ira Wolfe, president Success Performance Solutions,


This question has four key terms — "fun," "enjoyable," "laid back," and "quality of work." Several top companies such as Southwest, Zynga and Google have elements of this kind of workplace. So, such work environments are possible. Such a workplace begins with the leaders who must support the work environment, hire employees who are a good fit and define expectations.

One way to describe a work environment is "culture." Business leaders establish the culture. If one or more individuals in the leadership team can champion a set of values and the rest of the team accepts them, then it is possible to establish cultural values. However, if there is little support among leaders, they will have little success in creating a fun, laid-back atmosphere. So, the first step in creating a workplace culture is assuring that top leadership supports these values.

If leaders value being laid back and having fun, and still produce quality work, then they should hire employees who have those values. No employer wants employees who are laid back, fun, and enjoyable, but not productive. So, the most important screening characteristic is ability to produce quality work. However, other values of being fun and enjoyable also are important. So, employers need screening processes that determine whether potential employees have these characteristics.

Finally, the leadership team should be clear about employee expectations. When is it acceptable to take a break to play table tennis? What is expected in terms of productivity? Who are good examples of expected behavior? Individuals who are exemplars of desired values can be recognized and rewarded.

About the author: Ritch Sorenson is a professor in the Entrepreneurship Department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.