I’ve got a team that’s been running full steam to meet a tough deadline. We hit it — barely — but it didn’t close the deal we were hoping for.
Morale’s at an all time low.
Normally we would head out for a night at the pub, but without the expected deal, the budget for team events is gone. What can I do on the cheap to reward the team?
–A Broke Lead Engineer
Well, ABLE, you probably weren’t asking for this, but I’ll start by giving you a challenge: find a variety of team activities to do, even when you have budget. Your team might like the pub, but that’s probably the most wide-spread example of creating a culture of traditions over values. Heading to the pub every time is not going to help create an inclusive vibe for team members who aren’t comfortable with that. I enjoy taking my team out for a round every now and again just fine, but if that’s all your team does, it’s probably time for a shake up anyhow.
So let’s talk about some options:
Extra time-off for completing the project may be a short-term morale boost, if you have the authority to grant it: you’ll need to discuss that with HR. That might do something to reset team energy, and it’s likely to be popular and help with retention; but it’s unlikely to bring the team together. So even if you can pull that off, you might want to follow up with a group activity.
It’s a tough time of year for it where I live, but heading outside is a great change of pace. Head to a nearby park, or simply to the nearest sidewalk and practice some Management By Walking Around. If it’s too cold to gather outside, try googling for free tours of local buildings: libraries or town halls sometimes run tours. Call ahead to make sure they can support your group size.
If you need to stay in the office, a team pot-luck can be a great tradition, or even a brown bag lunch. Still too much work? I’ve hosted “Movie Thursday” before, where the team would vote on a movie to show, and we would all bring some monotonous work (think expense reports) to work half-heartedly on while watching the movie. You could even probably manage to spring out-of-pocket for some popcorn. Another possibility (depending on the office you work in) would be to have an in-office scavenger hunt.
If you work for a company that happens to donate to the arts, you might find that as a result employees can get in free to some local museums, or maybe there’s a nearby museum that offers free admission during certain times. This is a fantastic option that I’ve taken advantage of.
Free things to do with your kids/boyfriend/girlfriend in
One huge advantage all of these ideas have over pub night is that they create shared experiences: opportunities to make connections with your teammates to things outside of your workday life. Those are the sorts of traditions that can re-enforce the values of the team.
[editors note: none of these suggestions do a great job of including remote team members, but since the question was looking for a replacement for a pub night, I’ve saved that for another post ;)]