Dictionary.com defines esprit de corps as a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group. One great way to build esprit de corps at your workplace during the upcoming holidays is to have teams do special projects for other people.
A common practice at many workplaces is to have a party at a hotel or restaurant, or to do something similar in-house during work hours. I’m not saying such an activity should be replaced, but I know that teams doing things for other people creates a greater sense of esprit de corps. Therefore, why not let your teams brainstorm holiday projects they can do together?
Such activities could be for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, all of the above, or whatever you choose. The idea is simply to build team cohesion by doing something for others. For companies choosing to cancel everything because they don’t want to offend anyone, I say that is even more counterproductive than having a few people offended.
Besides, you don’t have to have a single, company-wide activity, and you don’t have to come up with all the answers yourself – that’s what brainstorming is for. Ask coworkers to identify how they can address different traditions in ways that build appreciation. Your team members have phenomenal ideas, and they will feel valued when you seek their input.
For example, if some employees want to do a project for Thanksgiving, others who want to do something secular, and still others who want to do something for Christmas, then encourage and support those different activities. Leaders of those teams can even give short reports at company meetings to let everyone know what their teams did.
Here are a few seed ideas to get your brainstorming going:
One organization I know is replacing their annual workplace Christmas party with an after-hours, family-centered office decorating party. They selected an evening in early December for a potluck dinner during which they will bring in extra Christmas decorations that they no longer use (or decorations they don’t mind loaning to the office this year). Their children will do the lion’s share of the decorating, they’ll have the kids sign a poster around which they will post photographs of the evening, and that poster will stay up in the office the entire month of December.
Several people volunteered to bring in trees, so it looks like it will be quite an evening of family fun.
Another company I know sets up multiple teams to volunteer at the local food bank and homeless shelters. This time of year these organizations are quite busy, both in terms of providing services as well as processing donations. This means there are lots of areas to help, depending on people’s personality style. People with organizational skills can help out in the back rooms sorting and boxing donations, whereas “people” people can help out on the front lines, helping those who are receiving the services.
Taking a few photos of people helping out (not those receiving the help) can be posted on a workplace bulletin board, along with a few factoids highlighting what was done.
To really bring together a small team (no more than five people) you can have them assemble their own box of food to deliver to a family you know that is in need, or multiple families if your team has the resources to do so. If you have a large organization you could create several teams to do this. In this effort people could make specific donations of food items to create a Thanksgiving or Christmas-type feast.
Around Thanksgiving, stores often have special prices on turkeys if you buy a certain dollar amount during your visit. Someone could pick up a turkey while others could contribute the other traditional food items. Delivering the food can be done discreetly (leaving it on the front porch) or actually giving it to people directly. Your team can decide the best way to do it, keeping in mind that the idea is to serve others, not to use this for publicity.
November is often a time for “rake up” activities sponsored by various municipalities, so people wanting a more secular team building activity could look into that, or organize their own rake up activity.
These are just a few ideas of how teams can help others, so let the brainstorms begin. I have nothing against collecting coats, shoes, blankets, toys, and food for other, larger organizations, as these efforts are worthy of our support. But having your teams actually working together directly for the benefit of other people will strengthen your teams’ bonds on multiple levels, and I think you’ll be pleased with the positive impact it has on your workplace.
As an incentive to reach out, send me pictures of your team(s) working on a service project this holiday season between now and Dec. 31. After the first of the year I’ll randomly select two companies and provide them a free workshop or webinar on Creating Passion-Driven Teams.
Dan Bobinski is a management trainer, best-selling author and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. He makes his home in Boise. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.