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How we celebrated each other on our team away day (without British awkwardness)

The two themes of Vanti’s whole company away day last week were clarity and celebration.

Clarity because we’re growing bigger every month and doing a huge variety of complex things, so it’s hard for anyone, newbie or old hand, to keep up.

Celebration because we’re tackling a huge number of questions in how we work (both on the people and system front) and it can be easy to see all the hard bits. Being able to step back and see what is valuable and good in where we’re at is super important.

Clarity is relatively easy. We did a couple of surveys asking what people wanted clarity on, and asked each team to do an update incorporating those topics.

Celebration, however, is tougher, particularly with awkward British culture. We wanted to make sure that the celebration was authentic, and also that no one accidentally got left out, like some strange popularity contest. Also, who wants to actually go up to people and tell them complimentary things? Too weird, even with our deeply lovely crew.

So here’s what we did.

In addition to asking people to share things worth celebrating, we experimented with two things that were more personal.

Celebration faces

First off, we set people the task of describing every member of the company with positive, accurate words and phrases. We literally gave them a sheet as they came in with the name of each team member and three columns for responses. This was to make sure people had time to think so they weren’t put on the spot.

Vanti celebration faces

Of course, there’s only 30-odd of us right now – we might need different strategies when we get bigger. Maybe people get a list with half of the people and others get the other half?

Later on, they drew their own face on a piece of paper on the wall and labelled it with their name. We made sure that people who couldn’t make it on the day were represented too.

Then everyone came up and wrote in their descriptive words next to the appropriate face.

Each person’s face ended up surrounded by colourful, positive words.

As part of our final check out at the end of the day, everyone shared a word that touched them. “I’m really happy someone described me as [smart, funny, caring, thoughtful]”, people said, “which is great as that’s something I strive for.”

You could see that it was really affirming, without being saccharine or embarrassing.

Celebration bingo

The second experiment was around how do we find stories to celebrate about each other – without putting people on the spot.

The way we did this was Faye made ‘bingo’ cards with 8 names on (plus Vanti as a company in the middle). Each card had a mix of people from across the organisation.

You had to go around the room and find out who had a story of someone on your card living out the Vanti values.

Once you had a full card, including a story about Vanti as a whole, you called bingo!

The ‘winner’ then shared the stories they’d received and could ask for help remembering them from the person who told them, if they needed it.

 

Vanti celebration bingo

It really got the energy in the room going and, it might sound cheesy, but one of the things that people say consistently about Vanti is that everyone really lives the values. This became really clear when everyone you asked had a story about someone on your card.

If your team hasn’t really gotten such an obvious focus, it could be easy to adapt this to just be about finding stories for when people on your card did something worth celebrating, went the extra mile, did something good for the company, that kind of thing.

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These two activities, Celebration Faces and Celebration Bingo, really allowed a warm atmosphere to develop and led us to go deep in the Ask Anyone Anything session we ended with.

Feel free to take these and adapt them when you want to help people focus on what’s already working in your organisation. Make sure you let us know how you get on!

How do you celebrate your extraordinary people? We’d love to add to our repertoire…

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AJ

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I am a leadership and equitable culture specialist, and the co-founder of an anti-racism consultancy. I work with Vanti to help evolve the organisation to where it wants to be.