Let me ask you a question, and take a moment to think before you answer it: do you enjoy the annual office holiday party? It sounds great on paper - an opportunity for co-workers to leave the discussion of the accounts receivables in the office and have a few friendly drinks together to blow off steam. We used to have big holiday parties, but they were usually a letdown for me. We would go back and forth about whether to include spouses and partners, or whether to combine them with some other event. It was hard to make everyone happy. At best, the party ends up being a bit boring because everyone is trying not to be that person who ends up embarrassing themselves. At worst, well... you do the math. It's no accident half the articles online today about these parties are about how to 'survive' them.

After more than a decade of building and leading my business, I was itching to get rid of the boozy blowouts and replace them with something that would bring us together as a team and create meaningful, lasting happiness -- not just the illusion of happiness. That's when I heard about a city-hosted Christmas party in my home town of Toronto, for preschool children living below the poverty line. I wondered who's supporting the older kids, because I was once one of them.

Growing up in Calgary, the second youngest of seven kids in a family of immigrants, I attended a similar community holiday party. I still remember how it made me feel welcomed and included.

So ten years ago, along with the city and a local community organization, my staff and I hosted our first "Christmas in the Community" event to make sure every child is remembered in Toronto during the holiday season. Everyone in my office got an assignment: from cooking turkeys at home, to creating unique activity stations for the kids. Our teams came through in playful ways I never imagined: posing as human Christmas trees for hundreds of kids to 'decorate' with paint and glitter; hosting makeup stations for fake mustache applications; sharing awkward break-dancing lessons. Then our staff 'Santa' topped it off with donated toys for everyone.

The smiles we shared transcended age, titles and the event itself, rippling out to our families and well into our new year. It was happiness that lasted for weeks, unlike the fleeting fun of the boss handing out drink tickets. I knew we were on to something.

As members of my team shared pictures and videos from the events across social media, 'Christmas in the Community' took on a life of its own. The event soon spread to our offices around the world, not just the office where the boss worked.

In London, our team gave up a Saturday to do craft stalls, dress up as elves and have a Santa give out gifts at a local community center. In Nairobi, our people spent a day at a children's home on the outskirts of the city to spread cheer among orphans. In Melbourne, our staff organized a beach clean up in their community to remove plastic waste and debris. From Boston to Quito, Costa Rica to Cape Town, even in the Galapagos, everyone got involved in a way that exceeded my hopes.

This year, I made it to Peru for our annual sales meeting and community celebration, where the children of our incredible Inca Trail porters, cooks and guides - nearly 1,000 in all - trekked near and far across the Sacred Valley for a fun-filled day that was designed for them and hosted by us. There were games, music, face painting, and toys for all. It was emotional for me to see our people doing such great work.

Replacing our holiday parties with a day of connection has created happiness and community in a way that no office party ever could. Our employee engagement has grown. Our local relationships have strengthened. And we've succeeded in setting the stage for a new year focused on higher, social purpose.

Those local relationships are key. Over the years, one of the greatest lessons I've learned is that no matter how large or successful your company grows or how global your business becomes, it's smart business to include the local people who inspire and support you along the way. That's because all business, like politics, is local. And brands should be about people, not faceless products.

The events of 2016 reminded us how important it is to get out of our bubbles, and connect with neighbors from different backgrounds. It's my view that travel can be one of the most powerful ways of doing that, and I hope you make a resolution to do more of it in 2017. But we can and should also connect with different people in our own community, and take time to give back.

So, even if you don't think your colleagues would ever go for something like a day of volunteering instead of a holiday party, why not give it a try? Your company's holiday spirit might surprise you - and you might even surprise each other. Either way, the returns are worth it.

Published on: Dec 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.