You have just completed a difficult project that ran a bit over schedule and didn’t quite come in on budget. But senior management is pleased, and the users are thrilled. Your project team did an outstanding job, and you’re looking at a not-insignificant bonus check this year for bringing it home.
Now is the time to thank the people who made it happen. As the boss, you’ve thrown or attended a party or two in your time. But a moment of congratulations to your team for a job well done should be more than an obligatory two-minute speech during a pizza party. Here's a strategy for planning a celebration that goes beyond a pat on the back.
Celebrate team success in style
Your development team didn’t do a halfway job on the project you just delivered, so you shouldn’t do a halfway job in offering your congratulations. Resolve to go all out by planning to celebrate their success in style with an event that demonstrates your appreciation for the long hours and above-and-beyond effort.
Budget restraints may dictate what kind of party you throw, with choices ranging from an on-site gathering to a group dinner at a great restaurant, to an evening in your den. Make the decision based on your team: What will everyone enjoy? What will be relaxing? And what will be different enough from the usual socializing to mark this as a special occasion?
Cater to your team
Once you’ve chosen a forum for your celebration, make certain that each of your choices is geared toward making everyone on the team feel remembered and valued. Food plays a major role at most events of this type. Your choice is easy if everyone on the team is a generic pepperoni-pizza-and-beer type. But consider the varied tastes of your team members and offer pizza for some, steak hoagies for others, and don't forget the vegetarians on your staff. (If you aren’t keeping track of who likes what, you may want to start tracking likes and dislikes to be able to personalize your appreciation in the future.)
Let the whole world know
Nothing augments praise like amplification. Send an e-mail or post a memo to announce the get-together as an end-of-project celebration. Copy your senior managers and invite them, as well. Even if they don't attend, your team will appreciate the fact that you announced their success to the higher-ups.
Personalize your thanks
You’ll probably say a few words, when the moment comes, and you’ll offer a blanket thank-you to your team. But you should go the extra mile. Write each team member a personal memo that specifically mentions an extra effort or accomplishment that you noticed. Let that individual know that you’ve been paying attention to their efforts.
Moreover, acknowledge how the project has changed the team. This project wasn’t business-as-usual. Remind them that they are not the same team they were a year ago because of what they have accomplished. Each of your team members, ideally, has grown, just as you have. In a nonpatronizing way, you might find a way in your memo to acknowledge that growth and to suggest the possibility of increased responsibility or a move into an area of greater interest to the team member. No need for promises or negotiation; now is not the time. But there’s no reason not to give a nod to the success and its implications for the next big challenge.
Let your hair down
Your management style is what it is. Perhaps you’re very informal; perhaps you’re very by the book. Whatever your style, this is one of the few moments when you can relax a bit by being more casual without risk to your authority or image. In fact, it may be a mistake not to let your hair down a bit. Don't miss the opportunity, particularly if your work environment is more formal.
Be genuine and sincere when discussing your satisfaction with the work that has been completed. Even if it isn’t normally your style, take note if others are discussing the project and its rough moments or high points, and throw out a couple of examples of your own.
Pay close attention; they don’t get like this often
Finally, listen carefully. Whether or not a celebratory gathering becomes a review of the battles won by the team, you can learn a great deal by taking the opportunity to observe your staff in this more casual environment. This kind of relaxed event may produce more candid conversation than a formal project meeting. (If it’s a one-too-many-beers moment, take it with a grain of salt, of course.) If the team members are expressing the concerns they felt or problems they had, pay close attention.
You spend more time with this bunch than you do with your family, and you’re seeing them as they really are, which doesn’t happen that often. Note and appreciate what you see and you can’t help but have a better sense of who’s who and where you all might go on the next big undertaking.
Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence and social informatics, primarily in the health care and HR industries.