When you're a manager at a software company, boosting employee morale is a full-time job. The best way to keep everyone focused and productive, I believe, is to strike a careful balance between hard work and whimsy. That's why, last Thursday, I ran over to KB Toys on my lunch break and bought a dozen Nerf guns. And, boy, let me tell you, those Nerf guns really liven up the office!

Upon returning from KB, I called my team into the conference room for an "emergency meeting." You should have seen the look on their faces when they walked in and found a large particle-board sign with a big red bullseye and the words, "Take Aim... At Productivity!" For the next eight or nine minutes, the only thing on anyone's mind was having fun. I handed out the Nerf guns and everyone took a shot at the bullseye. For added enjoyment, I encouraged everybody to cheer the shooter on.

I had faith that my people would use the Nerf guns to keep the office from getting too uptight and stifling. And you know what? I was right! Before long, they were shooting up each other's cubicles and having a grand old time. Then, after letting off a sufficient amount of steam, they returned to their cubicles, batteries recharged. Those Nerf guns sure did the trick.

You might think boosting morale is an easy task–a kind word here, a pat on the back there. But if that were the case, anyone could be a manager. No, a good manager is constantly finding new ways to keep his or her folks happy. And sometimes, that means thinking outside the proverbial box.

The Nerf guns were hardly the first initiative I'd enacted to improve morale and stimulate creativity. But it was the most successful. Take the foosball table I brought in last September. I thought it might bring a little competitive spirit to the office, but Greg and Andrew were such ace players, they completely hogged the table. Not a great way to encourage teamwork.

Then there was my idea for a bi-weekly mid-afternoon ice-cream break. Everybody likes ice cream, I figured, and it might provide a nice, relaxed forum for people to exchange ideas on their current projects without calling a formal meeting. But because we were so busy eating ice cream–and I could still kick myself for this–a bunch of customer calls went unanswered. Well, the head office got wind of that, and you can bet I got a first-class butt-kicking. To make matters worse, it turned out that a lot of my workers were lactose-intolerant. How was I to know?

One of the great things about the guns is that my team can have their Nerf battles and get a little crazy without getting too carried away. After a few Nerf-gun volleys, the tension is broken and the monotony of staring at humming computer screens for hours on end is broken. Then my troops can go back to work refreshed. And it sure beats a cup of stale afternoon coffee and a dried-out bagel!

Granted, the guns cost $19 each, for a grand total of $228. That may seem like a lot of money, but you really can't put a price on employee morale. In the end, those guns will more than pay for themselves in new energy and ideas, believe you me.

I'm sure the higher-ups will be pleased with my efforts. One of the memos from the head office specifically instructed us to tailor morale-boosting to our individual teams. If Nerf isn't my tech-support team all over, then, by golly, I don't know my team. I just know that when the district manager comes by and notices the high spirits in the office, I'll be in line for a promotion. Maybe I'll even get a corner office, or at least something farther away from that noisy paper shredder.

As big a success as the guns have been, though, I can't sit back and rest on my laurels. Morale doesn't stay up on its own. Sure, nominal raises and attractive new business cards help some, but it's the little things a manager does that keep an office fresh and vibrant. But the big question is: Are the Super Soakers I ordered going a little too far?