Weekender: Garry Marshall on Creating a Culture that Feels Special

garry marshallWelcome to another addition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a happy day’s worth of thought to start your weekend off on the right track. Why just a day? Because it’s the weekend!

How do you make your workplace special? There is so much talk about the need for engagement, but the ways we achieve it can feel standardized, almost to the point of becoming generic. This wasn’t an issue for Garry Marshall.

Happy-Days-cast-playing-softballGarry Marshall is the legendary director, producer, and actor responsible for more television shows and movies than you can imagine. He wrote on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, and The Lucy Show; created The Odd Couple (for television), Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy; and directed Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries. And these are just a few of the highlights.

One gem in Marshall’s illustrious career was as the creator and executive producer of Happy Days. I’ve written about the impact this show had on me growing up, so today I’d rather focus on one of the ways Marshall united the cast and built an enduring following among everyone involved with Happy Days.

When Happy Days first became a hit, Marshall needed a way to keep the cast cohesive and grounded amidst their newfound success. In addition to the on-set initiatives, Marshall formed a cast softball team. They combined softball with promotion and played in USO tours and against television media in every town. If this seems like a gimmick, read what cast members have said about their experience thirty years later:

[Softball] was the thing that made us such a family. You know, a television show has at best a life of about six or seven years. When we started coming up toward that goal [on “Happy Days”], Garry would say, ‘I don’t see why we just can’t keep going.’ I think he really just didn’t want to give up the softball team.—Marion Ross

Whenever I think about the show, I don’t think about the ratings, I don’t think about the business side. I don’t think about any of that. I think about the experience of being on the set, or being on the road at one of our promotional things, or one of our softball games; the love and the support that never, ever waned.—Ron Howard

We played softball as a team, as a cast team, every Sunday. We traveled all over the world. We traveled all over America. We played hard, we worked hard, and I’m very, very fortunate that these people are in my life.—Henry Winkler

Softball may not be your thing, but find something that can unite your team beyond the walls of the company. Once established, this camaraderie flows back into the workplace and engages people on a personal level, increasing communication, loyalty, and collaboration. Like Marshall’s Happy Days softball team who continued to play together well after the show ended, your team’s informal activities can form a network of supporters to rely on throughout your career.

garry marshall letter to marion