Once upon a time, at many offices across America, throwing a Christmas office party at the end of the year was the norm. And while Christmas has become fairly secularized over time, it can cause feelings of alienation for employees who find themselves partaking in a holiday tradition that isn’t a part of their culture or religion.
This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any celebrations! On the contrary, as the world opens up and we are able to safely gather together again, human connection is needed more than ever, and an end-of-year celebration can serve to strengthen your team’s bonds.
Creating a people-centric event that celebrates everyone
“Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.”
-Pryia Parker, The Art of Gathering:
It’s not enough to just throw together a gathering and call it a day. What do you want your guests, in this case your colleagues, to come away with? How can you create a gathering where that outcome is achieved? It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; rather, you you must be aware of the needs of your team and be intentional on how to best to meet those needs.
For example, if your team is already very close and the last quarter has been taxing, you might be looking for some collective stress relief. Maybe this means you choose something soothing like a paint night or something more active like axe-throwing!
On the other hand, if your team has been working remotely for a long time and is finally gathering in person, you might want to create a space where teammates can have meaningful conversations and get to know each other better, like a potluck dinner party in an intimate setting.
These examples are very different gatherings built around very different needs, but they both focus on the people in the gathering rather than any given set of traditions, and they’re far more meaningful as a result.
Your team wants a Christmas party anyway...
What if the team agrees to a gathering that is centric to one culture or religion, like a Christmas party? If that’s the case, you can still imbue a sense of purpose into the gathering. After all, how many of us have taken part in an office holiday party that, even if it matched our cultural traditions, felt more like an obligation than a celebration?
Instead, use this opportunity to understand what the holiday season really means to each of your teammates. Even if there is a shared culture, each person’s experience with it will be unique, and you can celebrate those nuances as a group.
Consider another quote from the The Art of Gathering: “Take the reasons you think you are gathering...and keep drilling below them. Ask why you’re doing it. Every time you get to another, deeper reason, ask why again. Keep asking why until you hit a belief or value.”
For example, you might find out you have a secret team of master Christmas cookie bakers on your hands -- so you could stage a Great British Bake-Off themed event! Or, if your team values charity and goodwill, you can center a toy drive and distribution event as your celebration.
The best gatherings are about the connections we share
The bottom line is that the best gatherings are those that center the people in them. Rather than being guided by the templates provided by cultural norms, use the group identity of your team to shape your events throughout the year. If you do this, your gatherings will be so much better for it.
Written by Jasmine Gonzalez