Planning and hosting a fun work or team outing for a small group (less than 50 people) can turn the best of us into a Grinch, but with a few how-to tips, you can create a fun and memorable event worthy of every Cindy-Lou-Who! Get your tablet, laptop, or pen and paper ready. Planning a company outing goes much better when you have your notes at hand. Step one is the most important:
Know your limits!
Understand your budget, time and location constraints.
- Your budget will impact your choices of activities, the location, time, and date. Before you spend a lot of time brainstorming ideas or calling different locations, be sure you have a clear idea of how much you can spend.
- Time is a precious commodity during the holiday season. Decide if December is really the best time to take time off for an outing. If December is notoriously busy, maybe your team would enjoy a celebration in the spring or make it a New Year’s event in January. You may also find greater availability or lower costs of venues. An employee-only holiday can help you stick to the budget and focus on employee appreciation. Save family and friend events for the summer when work and social schedules are freer and the days are longer. For an employee-only event, holding your celebration during the work day is always appreciated. Getting paid to have fun with co-workers feels extra special.
- The location of the event should not make an employee’s day more challenging. Location is more than simply geographic. Do employees with personal needs (physical limitations to nursing moms) have the accommodations they need to feel comfortable? Finding oneself in an amazing location, but without the accessibility one needs or far from commuting options can quickly turn their high-spirits to frustration.
While starting with our limitations can feel daunting, it helps us quickly decide if an event venue or activity will meet the needs of our employees. Do not let anyone talk you into wavering on these items. Be the champion for your staff and it will show. The next step, knowing your team, can be just as important as knowing your limits. Insight about your team will help guide you when you are brainstorming some creative ideas.
Know your team!
Get to know your team’s likes and dislikes.
- What does your team like to do? Do you have a team of foodies, outdoor adventurers, book worms, movie goers? If you are not sure, this is a good time to ask. What do they like to do on their days off and vacations? This is a great way to find out that your NASCAR themed outing is not going to be a hit with your crafty crew.
- Do your employees have dietary restrictions? Make sure food options can fit all employee needs and are equally appealing. If you are not sure, ask! To steer clear of questions employers should not ask their employees, keep the question specific to the event and not about personal health or religious beliefs. Try this: We want to be sure everyone has an enjoyable time on our outing. Please let (whoever is organizing) know if you have any food restrictions or preferences.
- Respect their personal beliefs. Inclusion is the goal. A slight change in plan or venue may mean the difference between everyone having a great time and a couple people feeling like they do not belong. However an employee feels at the party will follow them back to the office and into their work on Monday morning.
Congratulations! You did the hard work of understanding your limitations and knowing your staff. Now it is time to get creative! Anyone can plan hors d’oeuvres and drinks, but it takes a special organizer to plan an event that people want to attend year after year.
Try something new and unique that everyone can participate in.
- Try a new tradition with an ugly sweater contest, white elephant gift exchange, Secret Santa unveiling, canned food drive, or other low-cost event (less than $10) that everyone can participate in, if they want to. Perhaps the winner of the contest can display their trophy for the year until next year’s winner claims it.
- Try something different than happy hour cocktails. Start with a team breakfast at the local pancake house (be sure they know you’re coming) and then split into volunteering groups within your community. Glow-zone bowling or mini-golf can make any of us an athlete! Be sure that there are trophies for success, lowest scores, and the best cheerleaders. Look back at your notes of what your staff like to do to get inspiration.
- Make it easy for staff to participate and abide by the staff handbook. We all like having fun, but a holiday outing is still a work event and all the rules still apply. Managers should be coached to step in when behavior starts to cross the line. If your event is going to have alcohol, there should be just as appealing non-alcoholic options and the alcohol should only be served by a bartender who knows when to stop serving your employees. Any claims of misconduct will need to be investigated just like a regular day at work. Employers have also been held liable for the effects of too much alcohol when an employee injures another person or property. To make it easier for staff to remain on their best behavior and reduce your expenses, think about leaving alcohol out of the outing.
So much planning goes in to a successful outing and few may know the time you spent thinking about every staff member and how to make sure they felt included. At the end of the event, you can have your own celebration when you overhear people talking about what fun they had. After all, your #1 goal:
Thank your staff for all they do and give them a chance to leave work behind and enjoy the company of their co-workers in an environment that makes them feel comfortable.