How to Prevent Bad Morale Events at Work

theater.jpgThe basic rule for managers who are trying to “build morale” or “team build” is: any event outside of work or conference room exercise does not create morale. Those things only allow whatever morale exists to surface, and if it’s healthy, to possibly grow. But if you take a dysfunctional team out to an amazing event, they return to misery. Take a happy team out to a horrible event, they return to happiness. It’s the experience at work that defines morale and you can’t fix a team through events alone.

Real morale requires consistently giving people work they care about, treating them fairly even in difficult situations and creating a culture of trust and shared values. This is harder to achieve in many organizations than obtaining budget to spend, which explains why so many poorly managed organizations spend so much on “morale”.

That said, there are ways to plan events so that they create the most opportunity for morale to grow.

What happens at good morale events?

  • Coworkers get a chance to become friends. By letting people play instead of work together, they have chances to build more natural relationships. They might learn that marketer or engineer that annoys them is fun to be with when they’re on your whiffle-ball team. They won’t be best friends but odds improve they’ll see each other as interesting people, rather than just the annoying coworker down the hall. Those non-work connections are buffers against conflict and hostility while at work.
  • Inject fun into group dynamic. Good morale events create stories: something crazy Fred did, how Sally beat the VPs at Halo, or the comeback the boss had for John’s rendition of his boring speech that morning. Create an event that makes stories possible. Those stories live on as a positive force, forever, in your organization. Think karaoke, an obstacle course, a scavenger hunt, something with seeds for stories. You have to take risks: even if the day is a complete disaster, guess what? That’s a story! Playing it safe never ever provides stories. Alcohol is tempting as a source for fun, but can lead to inappropriate or abusive behavior: don’t use it as the prime catalyst for fun.
  • Experience something new. Challenging (but non-threatening) morale events work because they force memories – They stand out and define that time for everyone there, giving them all a shared memory unique to their working experience. I can’t remember a single morale event on teams that just took us to the movies (see below) – but I can remember running through every building on campus when Windows 95 released, the time our team had a manager vs. programmer water-fight outside building 27, and the insane foodfight at the IE4 ship party (I have $50 for anyone who can find that lost photo of me with a pound of guacamole in my right ear).

By far the worst morale events are movies. There is no chance for interaction. No one gets to share anything about themselves. It’s a parade of mass forced introversion, where people join together to spend two hours staring silently at a screen. I love movies, but it’s not a good way to get to know someone better, unless the movie is followed by a meal where we can talk about what we just experienced.

How to plan a good morale event:

  1. Get the number of people down. If you can’t throw a good morale event for 10 people, why try for 200? Smaller is easier. Bringing 200 people to the movies adds zero morale to your team: but giving 20 a great day, that they’ll spread the word about when they return, adds tons of points. Either rotate teams, do a lottery, or dole out budgets to small teams at a time. And do not make morale events family days – that’s another thing. If people are getting paid for going to the morale event, than it’s a work thing, not a vacation day. Go for 200 only when you’ve figure out smaller events.
  2. Three key elements: fun, interaction, challenge. These elements explain why movies are so terrible for morale. They are not interactive and offer no challenge. How can sitting in the dark, in silence, with people you don’t know well, raise morale? And who wants to see movies in a packed house at 10am on Friday just because that’s the only time you can rent the place? Good morale events hit the trifecta, giving people a fun way to interact with others in the course of challenging themselves. Going to sports events isn’t as bad as movies, as you can talk to and see each other, but you’re watching other people do things instead of doing things together yourselves.
  3. Pick the right person to design the event. Some people are great at throwing parties, but most people are not: know thyself. Pick the person, or people, who are the spirit of your organization, or the organization you want to have, and let them organize the day. (Note: these people rarely have any correlation to the hierarchy). Give them the budget, your high level goals, and get out of the way. If you delegate right the first time and the event’s a success, people will fight over doing the organization work next time around. Never ever let the staff of managers, as a collective, design the day. You’ll get three big scoops of boring: a day no one hates, but no one remembers.
  4. Think cheap but clever. Money is a distraction. If you’re clever you can come up with creative ways to save cash. If it’s spring or summer do something outside: most parks are free or cheap to reserve. Organize carpools instead of having everyone drive (saves gas and time). See if you can barter your companies services to a place you’d like to rent. Ask around: who knows who, and can call in a favor, or offer one in return? Try to spend budget on food and drinks, two things you shouldn’t ever skimp on.
  5. Get away. It’s worth a 20-30 minute drive to wherever. People won’t wander off to check their e-mail at the first sign of boredom, and they’ll be committed to socializing (“Well I’m here, I should stop hiding in the corner and go talk to someone.”) Getting away raises the odds you’re taking them somewhere new and giving them an experience. Rent kayaks at the lake. Do a great BBQ at a really neat park (not the most convenient one). Don’t get suckered in by the convenience of big conference rooms or company spaces: you’ll instantly kill the buzz on whatever clever ideas you come up with. If you schedule wisely, you can dodge traffic both ways. And 5 great hours are better than 8 mediocre ones (and if you go for 5, give everyone the rest of the day off).
  6. Make it mildly competitive. If you’re afraid of low participation, or boredom, play on team rivalry. Organize it as the programmers vs. the testers, the website team vs. the management team, Over 30 vs. under 30 – I don’t know – make up something funny. The management vs. thing has potential for venting frustration in a safe, fun way, just be careful your competition doesn’t slide into war. Ask the folks from #2 to drive formulating how to break this down (Maybe it’s 3 teams? 4?). Throwing down a nice prize for the winning team as bait will get people involved if nothing else will.
  7. Think grade school games. Kickball is hands down the best no-frills, low-cost, easy organization activity to do. The goofyness of the ball (it’s big and red) equalizes just about everyone – there are no rock stars in kickball. It’s fun and, even for the super-competitive, hard to take too seriously. Throw in some good beer, food, music and a made up rivalry or cool prizes for the winners (that’s where your remaining budget can go), and you’ll have an awesome day. Frisbee Golf is runner up, as you can make courses anywhere, with teams of any number or size. (Whirlyball can work, but this has been a morale event staple for years). Semi-athletic things get people moving and change the hierarchy: no matter what happens co-workers become more than just their jobs.
  8. Pull surprises. If you’re in a big org, get a well-liked executive to drop by. If you’re a start-up, make a mystery day or afternoon. But if you go for the surprise, go big. If you say only “bring a swimsuit”, don’t take the team to the pool at the Y. They’ll never bite again at your surprises. But if you take them on a snorkling trip, or out on the lake for waterskiing, they’ll bite every time you offer a surprise in the future.

I’m convinced I’ve got some of the above wrong. There are too many teams with too many different things going on to prescribe morale plans for all of them. But I bet on the spirit: get out of the lame event rut. Take chances and do something interesting. You just might spark a fire, in them or in you, that leads to real morale back at work.

So help me out: What are the best and worst morale events you’ve experienced?

45 Responses to “How to Prevent Bad Morale Events at Work”

  1. Tom Harris

    You write: “Co-workers get a shot at friendship. By letting people play instead of work together, they have chances to build more natural relationships. ”

    I think it’s the other way around:

    Co-workers build real friendships when they work productively together in an exciting and supportive atmosphere. Then they respect and like each other, and generally open up to sharing non-work parts of their lives. Without the big company (or small company) wasting its energy on “morale events”.

    Help “miserable teams” stop being miserable by fixing their work situation.

    Take all teams out only to amazing, or at least good, meals.

    Reply
  2. KimRu

    I hate morale events. I suspect I’ve never been to a good one. I usually find myself resenting morale events because it seems like the company is trying to get me to buy into a “We’re a team. We’re friends. We’re family. We appreciate you – have a beer…” when back at work we are micromanaged and overworked. Additionally, almost all the morale events I’ve been to have been on my time – in the evenings or Saturdays. I’ve already worked 60 hours for you this week, why do I want to go to the park on Saturday with my co-workers instead of sleep or spend time with my family doing stuff my family enjoys? My personal time is precious and is worth way more than a movie ticket and a slice of pizza!

    For me, a few of the nicest “appreciation showing” gestures have been an unexpected day or even afternoon off after a gruelling project ships. Surprisingly, the team usually spent that time together, getting a drink or someone would BBQ at their house. (Obviously I have worked in very small companies.) Once my team each got a card with a $100 bill in it. I tell you, our morale shot up that day.

    One of the nicest things ever was after a project that was especially tough on QA, the programmers bought each QA person silly little bug catcher kits and signed cards. The card almost made me cry – programmers I thought hated me wrote how much they appreciated me making them look good by finding their bugs before the product went out. They let us know that they saw how many extra hours we worked and that they appreciated it. Not a single manager was involved in this gesture, by the way. I still have that card, while I sold the commemorative company keychain, mugs, and T-shirts at my garage sale!

    One of the most effective morale building tools was a mini-pool table in our work area. People just spontaneously organized lunch-time tournaments. People who normally don’t interact would hang out at lunch and play pool. It didn’t detract from people’s work performance at all. People were really good about that. It provided a friendly forum to take a break with co-workers and do something not work related.

    Finally, and it is possible that I am a nut, one of the best morale builders for me was being given the opportunity to work a booth at a trade-show. As a member of development, I’m usually locked away in a dark room trouble-shooting the problems with our product. Interacting directly with customers who loved our product and told me what was right about it sent me back to work completely rejuvenated. I also got the opportunity to interact with sales and marketing folks I never even met before. Additionally, they really appreciated my ability to answer the technical questions that came up. The experience forged new relationships that actually opened up some resources that improved my communication and performance at work far beyond anything the company picnic ever did for my morale!

    Reply
  3. Scott (admin)

    Pool, foozball and ping pong tables are super cheap ways to give people both an outlet for frustration, a fun break and a way to meet each other. The first time I saw these as office staples was at Microsoft in ’94, but it’s been a tech sector thing for some time. As are video games, but somehow the old-school sporty things work better and more people can play at the same time.

    While it’s not the same as a morale event, you’re right – it can go a long way. I suppose the kicker is you need to have a boss that doesn’t glare at people playing during the day: it has to be an outlet people can use whenever the choose.

    Reply
  4. LL

    “and the insane foodfight at the IE4 ship party”

    Only someone living in a country where obesity is a serious health issue would think a foodfight is something memorable.

    Want to see a *real* foodfight? Throw all that food in front of refugees in Darfur. Oh, wait. That wouldn’t be a foodfight; that would be a fight for food.

    So, yeah, you want a real morale booster: take the team and spend a day volunteering at a food bank.

    Reply
  5. Mark Denovich

    Good stuff Scott. I whole-heartedly agree with every point.

    My last company was quite good at killing morale. I’m having a hard time thinking of one singularly bad morale killing event. The positive ones stand out, because there weren’t many:

    Years ago after a month-long death-march of overtime and rushed development (steamrolling right over Thanksgiving) the company decided it wanted to say thanks (of course, not by paying us for the overtime.) Many dumb ideas were suggested by HR and the CEO. One was taking the engineering team (9) to a hockey game. Two of us siezed the momemnt, and said: “Skip the game. Give us the cash, we’ll make a party happen.”

    We took a projector from work and brought it to my place to watch the AFC/NFC championship games. All of our budget went to food ($500) and drink ($300.) The centerpiece was a $150 USDA prime rib roast. During breaks in the action we went outside and played football in the street.

    Keys to success: The event wasn’t forced on us. The people who crushed our morale (CEO & HR) weren’t in attendence. People with a talent for throwing parties made it happen.

    Reply
  6. Scott (admin)

    LL: Actually, my bet is that the Romans had plenty of food fights, just after the buffets, but right before the orgies.

    Darfur is a tragedy for sure, but I don’t see how the availability of Guacaomole in my ear in Seattle Washington contributed to their suffering.

    Reply
  7. Scott (admin)

    Mark: I Love that you did it at your house! I don’t know what happens after college, but suddenly people freak out at having people in their homes. It’s cheap, always has some kind of character, and makes a bigger connection than any anonymously rented place ever could.

    Reply
  8. LL

    Some followups

    I found it instructive that you chose the Roman Empire and its debaucheries as the comparison point. The parallels are, to say the least, intriguing.

    You’re certainly right in the microcosm: the guacamole in your ear did not contribute to their suffering. But in the greater pattern of life, the data points of “guacamole in your ear” and “If you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem” do resonate.

    The problem, of course, isn’t Darfur. Darfur is simply an example of the problem. And the food fight isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom of the problem.

    Raising morale isn’t a matter of events. It’s stepping back, seeing a broader picture, getting a context and then refocusing our energies on our commitments. It may seem facile to ask “did the guacamole in your ear improve your morale?”. It may *seem* facile to ask that question, but — especially in the context of your blog entry — it isn’t.

    Reply
  9. Marjorie Garcia

    The best morale event I’ve participated in was indoor car racing. It’s kind of expensive but well worth it.

    Reply
  10. ojc

    LL, you really need to pull your head out of your rear-end.

    Yes, it’s tragic that refugees in Darfur are starving but this food-fight had zero effect on them. Even if they had taken all that food and given it to refugees, they would be starving again a couple of days later.

    Your message seems to be: Nobody is allowed to have any fun, everyone must be miserable because there are other people suffering out there; You are all bad people if you don’t give your time and hard-earned money to other people.

    I pity you LL.

    Reply
  11. Rob Drimmie

    I disagree mildly with #5 (Get Away). There’s value in external events, but I think office morale means having a good time in the office, too. Like your examples, running through the buildings, water balloons on the grounds.

    Big events are nice, and fun, and useful, but like the suggestions above for pool and ping pong tables and such, having an environment in which small and unscripted events suddenly arise make any place better. A simple example would be a really great ping pong game that starts a crowd building. I can remember the top two players at one company I worked for playing pong for half an hour while slowly more and more people gathered in the room watching them.

    Another way to boost morale is to create easy opportunities for regular socialisation. There was a time when myself and a few coworkers who got to work early would sit around and have a cappucino every morning. We didn’t work together regularly otherwise, it just happened that we were early birds and started chatting.

    The opportunity to interact with coworkers as friends is definitely key, and creating an atmosphere where that sort of thing happens on a small scale, naturally, on a day-to-day basis seems really vital to strong morale.

    Reply
  12. Rob

    Yeah. LL is not one for morale boosting, is he?

    Reply
  13. sawtoothbarbie

    ojc, you’re not the only one that is thinking those thoughts.

    I pity LL also.

    Reply
  14. trekbody

    LL – if you indeed step back to look at the larger picture – the expense for some Guacamole if utilized well (even in a food fight), will make the workers happier, more productive, some more wealthy, the company and stockholders more prosperous. Done well enough this will improve the chances of money being donated and sent to Darfour as opposed to someone pulling Guac out of their ear and mailing it to Darfour.

    I won’t tell you where or where not to stick your head, but don’t you think in a discussion about having fun bringing up obesity and the troubles in other parts of the world is a bit much? I don’t think you realize how poorly you present yourself – and you do a disservice to legitimate concerns of waste.

    Think twice about being a zealot.

    Reply
  15. Dragynphyre

    Looks like I’m going to have to start hinting to management that we need some morale boosting here. It’s assumed that a copy of our newest marketing materials or last year’s annual report will make us giddy… while we’re just hoping for good earnings this year so that our January bonus will be high.

    Reply
  16. Ryan

    Great post, Scott.

    I agree with every point and believe that a rebuttal to every disagreement could be made by going back to the basics. As you said, “Take a miserable team out to an amazing meal, they return to misery.”

    If the source of a team’s misery is the work environment and company culture, no amount of go-cart racing, kickball, food fighting, or dare-i-say Red Hot Chili Peppers is going to ease the pain. Companies with [many] miserable employees have bigger issues and trying to heal those issues with a 5-hour “morale” injection is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm.

    My experience in working with companies in this situation is that they benefit from a combination of training and fun. Give people (management included) a chance to play; a chance to let their guards down and open up to the possibilty of change. The experience also provides them with solid evidence that can be referenced 6 days, 6 weeks, or 6 months down the road.

    Though I’m not in the “morale” busienss anymore, I’ve worked with several companies in situations like these as a part of a company called Mountain Challenge.

    Reply
  17. Kirsten

    Here’s another tip: if you are going to have a morale-building event, don’t do it to balance out a morale-crushing event.

    I had one boss whose unrealistic requirements and last-minute changes often resulted in a snarky debate between him and some of the team right before deadline. A day later, he would calm down and realize he might have been wrong, and offer to take us out to lunch to make up for it.

    By the third lunch, we didn’t give a rat’s ass about his lunches or his apologies any more; we just wanted him to stop being a jerk. Free lunches don’t solve major underlying morale issues.

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  18. John

    We’re finishing up more than a month of a brutal release effort, coupled with a move to a much smaller space that obviously has no room for hiring any additional help. We also no longer have space for the ping-pong table and I’ve been told 3 times that no way can we make space for the old foosball table.

    So we’re having a hawaiian shirt contest on Friday. There was one last Friday, but since only two of us wore them, they postponed it for a week.

    Personally, I prefer events where people bring their families. It’s always interesting to see how people behave with their wife and kids. Suddenly the jerk you hate is putting on a hand puppet show for the kids.

    Or golf. Round up spare sets of clubs, play “best ball”, and buy a bunch of beer. Make sure to spread cliques across the foursomes. Competitive, alcohol, away from the office, teams, fresh air, inclusive, lots of waiting around, what more could you want? Bowling might work too.

    Reply
  19. Edwinek

    Just a couple of weeks ago, my department went sandcastle building. Everyone had a great time!

    Reply
  20. Angus McDonald

    One of the best events I ever went to was a white water rafting event at an Olympic-class venue, where after negotiating the man-made rapids, you simply had your raft (with you in it) pulled up the hill to do it all over again!

    The actual event was challenging physically, but apart form a couple of extreme sports enthusiasts the entire group were new to it. We had a laugh, bonded together and created memories we could bring up again and again for years afterwards. It also helped that people’s spouses were invited. Afterwards we hit a Lone Star steakhouse for a big feed.

    But fundamentally you’re right – morale is about how the team is going at work. If the work is suffering or stressful or just insane, then no number of other events will help. Take the cash spent on the event and put it toward more RAM for the test server, or training the junior programmers, or heck … ANYTHING else that might actually help the bottom-line.

    Perks and special events help the team break out of their normal day-to-day set of relationships and can sometimes offer unexpected benefits to the work – but often there are LOTS of other things that could help too.

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  21. Ezmerelda

    I just joined a company who likes to put on a weekly morale building meeting at 5:00pm EVERY Friday. Having come from a string of years working in places where most people – work permitting – leave by 5 on Fridays, attending these meetings makes me feel mildly outraged. The exquisite corpse games and “look what I just found on this techie website” presentations are the last things I want to do. Meanwhile, my friends attend happy hours that will be over by the time I can get there.
    Everyone works hard all week long. I’d rather have a stay-in lunch meeting on Friday and feel appreciated while starting my weekend an hour earlier.

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  22. Marc

    The best event I had was a “casino night” at work. Actually it was an afternoon. We (the company) hired some people to come in and set up a few casino games; we had blackjack, roulette, and craps. Everyone was given a set number of chips to start with (no real cash involved), and the session started with each table explaining how to play the games. They did this simultaneously, so you really only had a chance to learn one game from the dealers.

    We had some drinks and food, and everyone had a great time “gambling”. At the same time, we were playing music that could be interrupted by karaoke singing of any brave individuals.

    It was a bit pricey, I’m sure, but a huge amount of fun. Plus, actually hosting it inside the office helped us attach those positive feelings to the workspace better. At the end, we gave out prizes to those who had the most chips.

    Another event was a “pirate” party. Everyone was given name tags with random “pirate” names, and a gold coin. If someone called you by your real name, you got their coin. At the end of the night, whoever had the most coins got a prize. That was a lot of fun, because we got to interact a lot and try to trick people into giving coins.

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  23. Ann

    As an Admin who is usually the one that has to come up with fun, exciting, and new morale events. It is extremely tough to make everyone happy.

    It may seem like your manager is the one who has come up with the idea for the event but that may not always be the case. Many times it is left up to the team Admin. The Admin is usually given a budget that is unrealisticly low and is expected to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy at every event.

    So before you complain about how lame an event is think about the overworked and underpaid Admin that makes less than a quarter of what you do in year that has to do their regular job in addition to making everyone feel they are loved and appreciated.

    Instead Thank your Admin for their hard work and dedication. Admins usually try to do their best but sometimes fall short of the mark. Afterall depending on the company your Admin could have up to 30 morale events to plan a year. If you would prefer planning your own morale event tell your manager, I doubt your Admin will be offended and it will help them out.

    Think of it this way, You get how many morale events a year to recognize your hard work and your Admin gets at most 3 hours one day a year to be appreciated?

    A team having to endure 2 or 3 lame morale events a year is a small price to pay compared to the Admin that may only get 3 hours in an entire year.

    Reply
  24. CJ Smith

    Initially, the managers in the Operations Division tried to elicit the support of the supervisory staff to brainstorm on ways to create an interesting year-end party. One Admin who no longer works in the Division, organized the last successful event in which staff participated. It included karoke, a scavanger hunt called “Operations Survivor,” and a guess who’s who from their baby pictures. The event was a roaring success. After that, the supervisors all talked a good game, but in the end, no one did much else. When none of the supervisors were willing to provide ideas on how to top the karoke event, the managers looked toward themselves. The first event we created was a sit-down dinner where all 6 managers (5 males and me) dressed as wait staff in black suits with white shirts and black ties; the white linen napkins over our left arms finished the look. We decorated the cafeteria with baloons and votives placed on snowflake centerpieces at each table. One of us, designated as maitre d’, was dressed in an impeccable suit and posted at the podium, located at the mouth of the room; when staff appeared, he checked a list and ordered the rest of us to present staff with menus, to seat them at pre-assigned tables and to take their drink orders. The staff were shocked and amazed. The buzz came not only from the recipients, but from individuals in other divisions as well, and continued for weeks.

    For the second year, we did Operations Bingo with 4 or 5 games, monetary prizes and light snacks, but this event was less illustrious than we expected. On Bingo night, the staff did get a kick out of seeing us in proleteriate casual dress as opposed to our standard business attire, and talked about this for several weeks. We thought that seeing another side of management would liet them think of us as regular human beings, but as soon as the novelty wore off, they went back to the usual complaints and grumblings. The best was yet to come.

    Last year, we created mildly competitive Agency-related theme games, served slices from footlong sandwiches, salads and beverages and gave the winners ipods; we spent less on food and more on the prizes. The staff were engaged, participation was high and word around the Agency carried on for many weeks. Too bad these morale boosters weren’t sustained.

    This site had some useful suggestions on ways to keep morale high and invite staff participation. I think I’ll have one particularly gragarious Admin organize a week-long guess who’s baby picture this is and offer as a reward, an honorable mention as the winner in the Agency’s on-line newsletter.

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  25. George

    Our small company has done most of what has been mentioned, golf, horseracing, picnics, casino night, etc. But the very best thing about it is none of it is planned by management. Up until a few years ago, I planned all the events. The boss and I decided that since it’s for our employees, they should do the planning. Our only involvment is a budget, they are free plan whatever event they choose.

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  26. A.C.

    Definitely, upper management needs to stay out of it! I worked for a multi-million dollar family-run business in a small town for 3 years (almost all of us were not part of the “family”). All they wanted to do was give us more money. While I never look a gift-horse in the mouth, money only goes so far when the boss uses 4-letter words in staff meetings and belittles employees. One month I received a $600 bonus; then he wanted to renegotiate the set rules of how I received bonuses. Whatever…

    I currently work for a small private company. We have no money and our employees range from 20-30 year olds, then a big gap, then 55-70 year olds. Many of our employees are too elderly to do the ideas listed – and I know they would complain – they complain about everything! Us young ones want some fun! Any suggestions? We have a “moral booster” each August. It’s always super lame and as the top Admin., I’m mostly in charge of it. The upper management (all over the age of 55 – the top manager is in his 70s) tells me what it’s going to be and then I have to get volunteers – good luck! They don’t seem to understand that it’s the 21st century and we don’t want to listen to an hour long speaker and have a free lunch. Help – it’s coming up again in a month! We’ve done the baby pic game – only 10 people volunteered pics (our company has about 70 people).

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  27. Irie

    I think the big mistake most companies make is that they only think to have morale events when things are going poorly. The fact is morale events are far more likely to be well received in good times, and therefore less likely to seem contrived at other times. Banking a surplus of good vibes will be valuable in making it throw the lean times.

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  28. Berthold

    The competetive team building part in #6 is far and away the most powerful part of any of these. Make up groups that consist of 1 or 2 people of each department (no more, or they will form groups within groups) and throw them some fun problems to solve. People will jump to their strengths (analysis, management, design, physical effort) and become a team through the simple progress of having to work together.

    The tasks should be tailored to the composition of the groups and ideally play to hidden strengths.

    This will lead to some discoveries (“wait, you know German? But how?”) and newfound respect (“nice save on the design, dude”) and will hopefully carry over into their every day work, where the “the guy from HR with the weird teeth” becomes Larry, and “that grumpy chick at reception” becomes Alice. Forego nametags, please.

    Like you said, this will not repair a broken company, but it will go a long way in building mutual respect and decrease a lot of friction. Great article!

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  29. Andrea

    I worked for a company that had monthly compulsory mixers. It was a dreadful place to work and the mixers did nothing to boost morale for anyone.
    I work for a different company now. We have monthly happy hours spot-lighting different products we sell (we’re a wine company), breakfast or lunches once a month (or so) to introduce new employees and celebrate promotions. Perhaps these are better because alcohol is involved, or perhaps these mixers are better because the employees are happier at this company than the employees of my former company. Not sure. I do know, however, one of the best ways to keep your employees happy is to let them do their jobs to the best of their abilities, set up clear expectations of what you need from them, trust their talents and reward them with praise, bonuses and promotions.

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  30. John

    Here is a good morale-boosting event. A very senior manager takes a day to meet individually with staff members and LISTENS to what they have been doing to help the organization. The very senior manager repeats back what he/she heard and says, “[John], thank you so much for what you are doing for the organization.” And means it.

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  31. Craig Villamor

    Great post. One idea that hasn’t been mentioned is getting teams to do volunteer events. I work for a company that organizes a lot of events around volunteering. The great thing about volunteering is that there is a larger purpose. It’s not simply spending money on the team, it’s making a difference in other people’s lives. This can create strong bonds.

    One of my most memorable team volunteer events was working at Family House (http://www.familyhouseinc.org/) which houses families with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses while they are in treatment. It’s hard to come away from an experience like that and not be impacted by it.

    We typically conclude volunteering with a social event at the end of the day. At that point everyone has stories to share from the experience and shop talk is kept to a minimum.

    Reply
  32. Chris

    Very good article. We’re forming a team building committee and this is very helpful info.

    Reply
  33. deb lavoy

    the best morale boost for any team is to believe that 1) they are doing something worth doing and 2) they are doing it well. I think the best morale boosters engage the team on those elements. Social events can be fun, can build camaraderie, but if you have a morale problem, they are not the solution. Use these events to celebrate your team – there are other more effective ways to build it.

    Reply
  34. Neil

    Curling is an *awesome* morale event for all the reasons you mention above.

    I absolutely hate morale events like go karting where a group of 8 people are doing an individual thing, and everyone else is standing around watching. It also sucks when some people in the group have experience at the event (go karting, whirlyball, etc.) and just dominate everyone else.

    Curling has none of those problems. Everyone sucks at it. Everyone goes “CURLING WTF???”. Everyone participates. Everyone realize how hard it is and how fun it is. And everyone gets to tell people after “lol we went curling how stupid is that omg it was so fun look at these silly pictures of us silly!”

    Seriously. If you have a curling club near you, book a morale event there. It’s the best thing ever.

    (Plug: Seattle has a club. If you work at Microsoft/Amazon/Google/FB/whatever, make your admin book your next morale event at http://www.curlingseattle.org)

    Reply

Pingbacks

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