The Wisdom, Power and Fun of Workplace Celebrations
Updated: Sep 4
After the 2017 Houston Astros won game 7 and Baseball’s World Series, the cameras turned to a group of exuberant athletes and their bosses jumping up and down in celebration followed by drenching themselves in various beverages. Given the devastation from the floods and winds of hurricane Andrew their city had survived, it wasn’t surprising the win was a feel-good story for players, fans and non-fans alike. The celebrations reportedly went on for days in Houston neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces.
Remembering that for these players, coaches and personnel the post victory celebration was essentially a workplace celebration, it got me thinking about how and what we celebrate in everyday workplaces.
A family construction business CEO recently shared with me how they historically went from moving from one of their 200 projects a year, large and small, to the next project without much fanfare. They now consciously stop and celebrate each project completion in a variety of ways. She claimed that small shift in how they moved from one piece of work to the next had a very positive and profound impact on morale. They married the celebration of a project’s completion or the attainment of key milestones in larger more complex projects with an opportunity to review the accomplishments and setbacks, draw out the learnings and takeaways for the next time while strengthening their culture of continuous improvement. Then they break out the cake, pizza or gag gifts.
Regular minor boosts in our day to day work life make a huge difference. When leaders build a culture of appreciation through celebration everybody wins. Here are a few things to think about:
Small wins have a big impact. A middle manager recently told me about an impromptu employee huddle and cupcake celebration when they learned their government department had made the 100 Top Employers in Canada. Though not a huge deal in everybody’s life it was a win for the department and part of a larger cultural shift.
We all understand the importance of breaking down larger complex problems or objectives into smaller milestones. People can better wrap their heads around attainable achievements along the way rather than big hairy general objectives. It is also easier to maintain momentum and morale when focused on a succession of small wins. When John Kotter designed his 8 Steps in Leading Change he focused one of them on the celebration of small wins because of the overwhelming positive impact such celebrations have on change initiatives.
Spread out the fun. The beauty of celebrating individuals, teams and departments or company wide achievements is that leaders and managers can easily get others involved to generate ideas on what and how to celebrate. I have seen too many well-intentioned managers fail in making celebrations fun and effective by mistakenly believing they are solely responsible for everything. Every team has folks who revel in putting these types of things together, the boss’s job is to be the catalyst and let others delightfully run with it. And though formal leaders are on the hook, this is also the work of all colleagues who are mindful of creating positive work spaces.
Change it up. My leadership development workshop participants are often asked what and how they celebrate. Years of service anniversaries and birthdays are important however they pale in comparison with the potential other types of celebrations have to shape workplace morale and culture. Sadly, many workplaces only celebrate the same thing the same way with little impact or so my informal survey stipulates. Looking for opportunities to stop, reflect and celebrate progress at work is vital to healthy thriving workplace cultures.
One manager recently told me about Milestones Mondays. Most Mondays (though not all) during their weekly staff meetings, he draws attention to a milestone that was achieved by a member of the team, the company as a whole or someone from another department who isn’t even in the room. Sometimes there are balloons, sometimes not, but he focuses on keeping it fresh and fun. When the person he is celebrating is not present he challenges folks to come up with unique ways to celebrate the person’s accomplishments. He has been amazed and so grateful in the gestures his staff has come up with to celebrate their colleagues.
Workplace celebrations needn’t be fancy and costly and shouldn’t be overly programmed and predictable. They don’t even have to include jumping up and down, trophies or champagne like the Houston Astros. They simply need to be a constant on people’s radars as a useful (and fun) tool for strengthening workplace culture and contributing to people feeling valued and appreciated which we all know leads to great success and wins.
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