I know a lot of business owners who want their team to have a good culture.  They want team members to not just work hard, but also to enjoy each other and have some fun.  They want to show their team appreciation and give them opportunities to relax together.  


However, there is a very thin line between trying to create a good culture and “forced fun” and the line is “ownership”.  Here is what I mean as told through two efforts on opposite ends of the “ownership line”.


Event #1 – Forced Fun 


A business owner wants his team to celebrate a great year.  He secures reservations at a fancy restaurant and allows the staff to bring a guest.  He envisions an opportunity for employees to commiserate outside of work.  He wants his team to feel like a family.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out this way.  His employees attend and bring their spouses, but the evening is awkward.  Employees don’t interact much with each other.  Everything feels too formal.  The owner tries to engage everyone, but he has the impression that nobody is really enjoying themselves.


He was right.  I spoke with the employees afterwards and many of them complained about the event.  One employee told me that she hated it when the company did events like that.  She said that she spends too much time at work and with the team anyway and that the last thing she wanted was to use her personal time to spend more time with the team.  She said it was compounded by bringing her husband who hated events like this.  Another employee called the event “forced fun” and said he could do without it. 


Event #2 – Good Culture


Another business owner also wants to celebrate a great year.  In his company, the employees are well aware of the progress towards the year because this company does a great job of helping employees understand how they contribute to success.  The owner expresses the idea of celebrating successes to a group of employees.  The employees lean into the idea and the owner gives them a budget and asks if anyone would be willing to determine what they could do.  The owner offers to help as much or as little as they want. 


The employees get together and brainstorm ideas.  They finally decide on a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant.  They float the idea to the owner who endorses it.  The owner makes the reservations while the employees think about what they would like to do during the dinner.  They come up with a secret santa idea and decide to allow everyone to bring their significant other.  


The event ends up being a huge hit.  Everyone seems to enjoy each other’s company and the activities throughout the night engage the guests.  One spouse of an employee later told me that he loved the dinner because it showed him that his wife worked for a great team and a great company.  The employees reported that the event was a lot of fun and they couldn’t wait to do something similar again.


The Ownership Line


The two stories included nearly identical events with very different outcomes.  The difference between the two events is that the employees felt ownership around the 2nd event while the first event felt forced.  It really isn’t “what” you do to bring your team together.  There is nothing you can do that everyone will always love.  However, if your employees help create the event (and the culture of your company), they will own it and forgive things that don’t go perfectly.


A few years ago, People Centric had a year where we were tight on our budget.  At the end of the year, our team decided to hold a Christmas party in our office.  Instead of catering in food, we decided to save money and purchase ingredients so that participants could make individual pizzas.  It ended up not working as smoothly as we thought.  It took a good 3 hours to make everyone’s pizzas resulting in 2 or 3 people eating at any given time with everyone else waiting.  Yet even while this event didn’t go as planned, our team often talks about it with fondness because we created it together.


If you want to show appreciation for your team, go to your team for ideas and let them run with it with your full support.