Your boss has asked you to organize this year's employee event. Congratulations--sort of. Since you've been around for a while, you know that some of these company occasions have been tremendous fun, while others have been forgettable at best.
But you also know that a great way to motivate and engage employees is to invite them to participate in a special event. That's because successful company picnics and other events bring employees together and create a sense of comradery.
So how do you create the best company picnic ever? Here are 17 suggestions:
- Start with objectives. Make sure you're clear about the event's desired outcomes. Recognize employees for their hard work? Help people to get to know their colleagues better? Boost morale? Just have fun? There are no wrong answers, but understanding objectives will help you design an event to achieve them.
- Decide who will participate. Sometimes organizations have traditions (always include families or never do), but often the participant list is worth exploring to make sure you're on track. Should your event be staff only, or should spouses and kids be included? What about retirees? Should you invite people with whom you have close relationships, like vendors/partners?
- Form an event team. When a group of employees have a voice in the decision-making process, you're more likely to get buy-in and create an event that everyone will really enjoy. The team can simply advise or members can roll up their sleeves and plan every aspect of the event, from choosing a venue to sending invitations. Team members can also play a role in setting up the event on the big day and making sure everything goes smoothly.
- Hire a pro. If you can't recruit helpers from inside your company and/or everyone is very busy and/or the job is too overwhelming, see if you can get approval to engage a professional planner. Ask around for recommendations of planners who specialize in events like the one you're considering. You'll still have to make decisions, but most of the work will be tackled by the person or company you hire.
- Use the element of surprise. At my firm, part of the fun of every event is that only a small group of people know where we're going and what we're going to do. For everyone else, this year's experience is a complete surprise. People try to guess--Aquatic paintball? Zip lining?--but usually we're able to maintain the suspense until we depart for the event. (We make sure and share information on what to wear and whether staff members will need sunscreen or insect repellent.)
- Create a theme. You don't always need a theme for your event, but it can certainly add to the fun. One company had a bluegrass picnic (complete with music); another held a Kentucky Derby event with horse-and-carriage rides around the park and races with stick horses. Ask your team to get creative to see what you can come up with. Zombie apocalypse? (Well, maybe not.) But, depending on the interests of your employees, how about Star Trek/Wars? Or NASCAR? Or Disney movies?
- Choose an interesting venue. When you select a place that has built-in diversions, you don't have to work so hard to organize your own activities. Last year, my firm had its summer event at a county park that has a zoo, carousel, playground and train ride. Although the event only included adults, we all felt like kids!
- Bring the party to the workplace. If everyone can't leave your facility, think about what you can do on site. One idea that many organizations are embracing: having a food truck festival. One company I know created a beach party, complete with a clambake, volleyball (played on trucked-in sand) and a steel drum band.
- Take food seriously. This is one of the most important elements of the event--the thing that everyone cares about. So make sure you order plenty of food, and take dietary restrictions into account: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. If your budget is very small, you might consider a pot-luck event--just make sure to get people to sign up for categories (including appetizer, main course, side dish, dessert, beverage) so you have enough of everything.
- Include fan favorites. While it's true that there's nothing new about such activities as inflatable bouncy castles, face painting, balloon animal artists, sidewalk chalk or even sack races, there's a reason people love them. Don't worry about being uncool; just call the event "An Old-Fashioned Get-Together" or create a carnival theme.
- Create some friendly competition. We've learned that our employees love to win. So we often form teams and create a competitive game. One year we had an improvisation comedy contest. Last year, we organized a scavenger hunt at the zoo, where teams had to find certain animals, take photos, sing songs and even identify typographical errors on signs (which makes sense because we're a communication agency).
- Dunk the boss. Speaking of favorites, if there's one thing people love, it's the opportunity to soak their leader or manager. If the boss doesn't enjoy a dunking, find a different way to turn the tables. Have the boss serve the ice cream sundaes or organize the props ("Feather boa, anyone?) at the photo booth.
- Laugh at the weather (and have a plan B). My firm has endured some horrible summer weather: 100 degrees in the shade, monsoon-quality rain and scary lightning. So if you're planning an outdoor party, make sure you have a contingency plan. A different date? A back-up indoor venue? Whatever your Plan B, keep everyone in the loop so they know how you're handling the weather
- Get artsy-crafty. Kids of all ages love to make things. So figure out a way to unleash employees' artistic and crafty sides. One year, on the day my company planned a picnic, the weather was atrocious. So we decided to have our party indoors. Because our reception area was about to be renovated, we made the quick decision to invite staff members to have a graffiti session on the walls that would soon be torn down. Once people got over their initial nervousness--"Can we really do that?"--everyone grabbed a marker and got to work. Writing on the walls was, quite simply, lots of fun. It unleashed our inner kindergarteners.
- Don't talk about business. If you need to address issues, talk about them at your next staff meeting or schedule a dedicated session. This event is all about celebration and appreciation and having fun. Yes, it's okay if the boss wants to say a few words, but make sure the message is warm and personal. Save the "let's hit our goals" pep talk for another day.
- Plan a low-impact, everyone-can-play sporting event. I've found that the extreme sports--touch football, serious softball and let's-all-learn-rugby--bring out the macho, hypercompetitive side of some people (both male and female) while making others feel excluded. Instead, choose lighter activities like badminton, bocce, cornhole, even kickball.
- Give out prizes. Who doesn't appreciate swag? You can give away small items--like hats or water bottles--to everyone or raffle off more valuable prizes like movie tickets, dinners for two or a set of luggage. Some companies have even persuaded vendors to donate a prize or two.
Finally, relax and have fun! Everything may not turn out perfectly, but as long as everyone has a good time, your event will be a success.