Why You Should Build Company Culture with Events

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In a small town in Alabama in 1956, a manufacturing company bought a carousel so that the children of their employees could enjoy a festive time during December holidays.  Management funded the event and paid staff and employees to operate the ride during evening and weekends for the weeks preceding Christmas. It drew the employees together within the community and neighboring towns to an event that everyone looked forward to yearly.  And regardless of the economy, company performance, work issues or schedule, everyone could enjoy the carousel, drink hot chocolate and interact with one another in a social environment without the pressure of work. The longevity of the event marks it as one of the most successful company events ever initiated, totaling up 60 years and counting!

Why an Event?

The simple answer to this question is – because they’re fun.  But in addition to fun, there are several reasons for having a company event:

To Build Culture – Company events are a great way to build and reinforce culture.  For this to happen, stakeholders and decision makers must understand their own culture.  For those that do, an event can help shape and define the culture and add dimensions and layers to it in an organic way.  This is also true when issues have been affecting company morale negatively. Here, events can reshape and redefine culture away from negative elements and toward positive values that ownership wants to promote.

To Build Community – The story above is a great example of how events can build community connections.  Certainly, events that promote social responsibility and give back to the community and local neighborhoods have an impact.  They add stature for the company within the community and give employees a sense of pride that extends outside office walls, yet one they carry with them when they return to work.

But events can also build a company’s “internal community”.  With properly planned events, divisions between departments and staff can be put aside because they see their counterparts as people outside of the organization, people with whom they discover things in common and who now may share memories and inside jokes because of the event.

To Empower Employees – Studies showing that only 13% of employees feel engaged at their company, and the power of the right event can make the difference between full engagement or loss of staff through attrition.  Fully engaged employees, however, are 87% less likely to leave.  In fact, many of the best corporate event ideas come from the employees themselves who develop plan, run and manage them.

Empowerment can also be achieved through creativity.  When the pressure of day to day business is put aside and departmental barriers are removed, employees are free to be creative and let ideas flow freely.  When the event includes creative ideas and activities, it can lead directly or indirectly to new ways of doing things, new initiatives and greater employee participation and buy in for new projects.  This also builds stronger teams overall and in fact, many events activities are structured specifically for team building.

Choosing an Event

Planning an event is no walk in the park - there are many variables to consider when choosing an event.  Location is a large factor in event choice as employees who must pay for parking, travel long distances or find child care may not be willing or able to attend.  The event location should be easily accessible and if possible, off-site to allow people the chance to interact and relax without the familiar sights of their day to day environment.

The type of company matters in event choice as well.  As an example, accounting firms will have different needs than manufacturing companies.  And finding an event that fits the demographic makeup of the staff as well as promoting company cultural values reinforces the importance of “know the culture”.

Purpose also plays a big role.  If the purpose is relaxation to celebrate company success, the events chosen will need to reflect little work and a lot of fun activities.  If the purpose is morale, awards and recognition can help define the type of event to choose. And if the purpose is team building, more structured, instructional or managed in office events may be required.

Things to Consider

Before diving into company event planning there are several things to consider.

1.     Events must be inclusive – While nothing better than bringing a company together through an event, few things are as damaging as those that are not inclusive.  Remote staff, satellite operations, multilingual companies as well as religious and cultural considerations must be considered to find something inclusive to all.

2.     Events can be great for families – When possible, family inclusion can foster a larger sense of family at work.  It also helps employees who have a difficult time switching off their work persona.  By including family, employees may be more at ease and can free themselves without bringing “the job” to the event.

3.     Use common sense – Every company considering an event does so to improve and promote positive cultural values.  But all events need to be fully vetted by HR or ideally, hosted by a corporate event company who specializes in helping select the right type of social event.  Despite the best of intentions, you don’t want an event designed to promote fun that through lack of insight or forethought creates a situation that could result in bad PR, ethical dilemmas or harassment claims.

When the company in Alabama began the carousel, they never imagined the history, tradition and sense of community it would create.  They simply wanted to find a way to show appreciation to their employees and families and provide them with fun for the holidays. What they achieved was a self-sustaining event that transcended its original purpose and impacted company culture for decades. In choosing a company event, you may not start a trend that lasts 60 years.  But with careful consideration and a deep understanding of your culture, you can build and enhance engagement that will foster company growth and health for years to come.

Pedro Suarez