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Creating unforgettable memories between Beers, Beats and Bites, or: How to make your Team Appreciation Event successful!

A simple guide to making your team appreciation event a success. It's more difficult than you'd think!

Of the many tools in your toolbox that can be used to influence employee motivation, the team appreciation event is one of the most powerful. It has the potential to create unforgettable memories, both good and bad, with all potential consequences attached. Hence, it should be subject to very careful considerations. This article provides a set of guidelines to decision makers for creating a successful appreciation event based on lessons learned at Fishlabs.


(1) Put yourself in the right mindset…

If you consider your appreciation event “internal marketing”, you are already one step removed from what it is really about, namely creating joy for your team. Period. Don’t try to use the event as an opportunity to sell your company to your employees – they have already chosen you as their employer. Hence leave the roll-up banners and company shirts at the office. The more selfless you approach this task the better. In any case, don’t ever suggest or imply that the event is a means to a business end such as increasing productivity through greater motivation or the like – even if that’s exactly what you have in mind. Also be careful when it comes to associating the event with anything games-related since your team may become suspicious that it’s being trained rather than appreciated. While it seems perfectly fine to take your team to see Wreck-it-Ralph, doing a high score competition of your latest release may be pushing the envelope.


(2) Find the balance between dictatorship and democracy…

The smartest thing to do, really, is to provide your team with as much freedom as possible to choose how it wants to be appreciated while exerting as much control as necessary. Finding the right balance isn’t easy. You obviously need to set limits and requirements based on your budget and impending deadlines. But that’s not all. If your team favors a visit to the nearby strip club and points out that it’s within the budget and would not endanger any deadlines, you may still want to cast a veto based on “other” concerns. At the same time, it’s not a good idea to dismiss the idea to visit a medieval food fest just because you think eating with your hands is gross or because you always wanted to check out that neat sushi place across the street. You may not always be happy with your team’s preferences, but this is not the time to educate. Embrace the opportunity to learn about your company’s culture - the real one, not the one from the brochures.


(3) Better be there…

You don’t have to be the first on the scene, nor should you be the last. But when your team is being appreciated, you better be there. If something else comes up and you can postpone – do it. If you can’t postpone your thing, consider postponing the event. Take 3 things into account: Bank account, existing coronary diseases of the event staff, potential level of your team’s disappointment.


(4) Set them free, wind blowing in their hair…

Make the event optional. It’s got to be ok not to attend and spend the day working at the office instead. Don’t try to change anybody’s mind about that. However, if a significant number of team members prefer their desks to your event, you might have to ask yourself if you’ve really picked the right activity or venue. Or maybe there’s something more serious going on below the surface? Either way, at least you’ll know that something’s up and you can take it from there. If you make an unappealing event mandatory, the best you can usually hope for are sick notes and second or third hand complaint reports from the water cooler.


(5) Let their voices be heard…

Speaking of feedback, make sure there is a way for your employees to voice it after the event. Every day you make a point by listening to your community. It makes just as much sense to listen to your team. The learnings you will gather for future events will be invaluable.


(6) Don’t over-organize…

Distinguish between the things that make or break the event and those that are nice-to-have or plainly optional. If you go on a 4-hour canoe tour, you better make sure there are enough boats and supplies for everyone. But don’t throw a fit if the boats don’t match the company CI and don’t bother your team with master agendas broken down in 15 minute increments. Being rushed or administrated isn’t fun. Also leave room for small things to go wrong. This will cater for a more authentic feel and often it’s the small mishaps that make for a memorable experience.


(7) Unite against a common foe…

Don’t limit yourself by doing internal-only events. If you’re heading out for a day of Highland Games, a tug of war with your colleagues can be great fun. However, it could be even more fun if the guys and girls at the other end of the rope were from another company, couldn’t it? It’s astonishing how little is going on amongst game companies when it comes to joint events and activities – at least beyond the occasional soccer match. At Fishlabs we have engaged in Lasertag matches against five “competitors” so far and the results have been baffling: Everyone had big fun, stories of the matches are still being told and as the icing on the cake our relationships with our opponents have actually improved on the personal level.


(8) Don’t’ forget: Location, location, location…

One of the biggest yet most common mistakes when it comes to events is choosing a venue that’s too big. You will end up with many small clusters of people who already used to hang out with each other anyway. Mobility between the clusters will be low because it will require a conscious effort to move across the room and tap into an on-going conversation. In contrast, physical proximity allows for spontaneous things to happen. Obviously there’s a trade off somewhere. Having to squeeze through bunches of sweaty backs and armpits every time you’re heading for the bar isn’t fun either. To find the perfectly-sized venue, you’ll need to forecast the number of attendees as precisely as possible. Make sure you have a process for that. When in doubt, go for the smaller location. And stay away from the office unless you’re sure everyone in your team is super-comfy there. For many it is associated with work rather than fun, whether you like it or not. Plus nothing kills the atmosphere like sipping a beer next to someone who’s still scrambling to hit a deadline. If you’ve decided for an off-location, the question is just how off you want it to be. If you pick a place in the middle of a busy nightlife district your event will probably start falling apart before the clock hits eleven. If you’re going for a remote place, more people will stay committed, but they probably end up partying less and leaving earlier because of the logistics. Your call!


(9) Stay away from parties…

Although they tend to be every Event Manager’s hottest fantasy, be weary of trying to organize company parties, i.e. with dance floor, DJ and all – unless you’re a big gaming company that has managed to attract a considerable number of female employees. But even then, chances are your team’s gender distribution is heavily skewing towards males. So unless you got very friendly ties to a modeling agency or are willing to pay for party hostesses (as some smart companies are doing at industry parties), spare yourself the inevitable dude ranch and head for a Pub or a public club instead.


(10) Let them eat cake (if they want to)…

The 200 pound, 24/7 pizza-munching developer belongs to a species that’s going extinct. More and more members of the games industry watch their weight and do sports to compensate for long hours in front of their screens. Chances are a lot of them don’t consider deep fried food suitable nutrition, so keep that in mind next time you call a caterer. Others might either have food allergies or have turned vegetarian or even vegan. So if you haven’t asked your team about their food preferences yet, do so now. Put the details in an Excel sheet and review it every time you’re about to make arrangements for food. Hitting a frozen yoghurt place with a bunch of lactose intolerant stinks, but nothing says failed event like a walnut-induced anaphylactic shock.


(10) Mind the booze…

Coming to think about it: Nevermind! Just make sure it doesn’t run out.

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