20 Ways to celebrate success at work

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When was the last time you hit a significant milestone at work and did something to celebrate? Or simply celebrated the fact that you’d made it through another day on a difficult project?

I don’t think we do that enough, so here are 20 ways that you can celebrate success at work with your team, including a range of virtual ways to celebrate success.

In-person team celebration ideas

First, let’s look at some options for when you are able to bring a team together to celebrate.

1. Meal out

This works well on teams with fewer than 20 people in my experience. A meal out with 150 work colleagues (although I have attended a couple of those) turns into a big event where you only sit with and talk to your friends.

The host doesn’t get round to chat to everyone and it kind of defeats the object of a personalized thank you. Also, it’s fiendishly expensive to take people out for dinner these days. However, for small teams it can work well.

Elizabeth holding a glass of wine

2. Drinks out

Drinks out cost less than a meal and work better when there are large groups of people involved. On one project we hired a private area in a pub and they catered with bar snacks too. We actually got a lot more food than we expected, which was great.

We chose a pub near the office so people could get their easily – it was a five minute walk. I thought that was important as often people are in a rush to get home from work and I know I wouldn’t be prepared to take too much time out of my home life to hang out with people I already spend the best part of my day with.

On one project we had too many people involved to take them out for drinks so we bulk bought bottles of wine (and some soft drinks too) from the local cash and carry.

Then we made personalized gift vouchers. You can read more about this attempt at thanking people on a budget here and find out why it didn’t work out so well.

Elizabeth and a colleague having coffee in a cafe

3. Bowling or Competitive Games

Ask my team what they don’t want to do and they’ll say bowling. But it works for many teams, and I don’t mind it myself. It’s a fun, not too expensive way of marking the end of a project or a successful completion.

Plus, games like bowling have the added benefit of competition. We bought cheap ‘medals’ and a little trophy so everyone on the winning team could have a souvenir to take home and the triumphant winners could put the trophy in their office area.

Alternatives could be any kind of team competitive event, for example:

  • Go karting
  • Scavenger hunt around the city (a good alternative to a virtual scavenger hunt)
  • Darts
  • Quiz nights.

4. Non-competitive activities

So your team isn’t big on trying to score points? If you don’t want that kind of pressure, you can get together for other celebratory and team building activities that don’t involve having to create teams, come up with stupid team names and pit yourselves against each other.

For example:

  • Cooking classes
  • Theater night
  • Comedy club
  • Guided walk or city tour.

When we went to a comedy club as a project team (it was a team Christmas outing rather than a celebration) it was a great night. Some of the acts fell flat, but others were fantastic. We created a shared experience too so it doubled as a team-building event.

5. Escape room

An escape room might also be an option for corporate team building as you don’t have to compete against each other. You work together.

Project celebrations are supposed to be fun, so if your team wouldn’t be up for the high-pressure environment of an escape room, think about another way to celebrate success at work!

We did an escape room at London Bridge. As the team was too big to all go in the same one, we split into two teams and competed against each other. My team got out first!

The escape room location had two different rooms, so we were not really comparing abilities, maybe the other teams’ room was much harder than ours. I had a great time, it was good to see my colleagues’s strengths and we had lunch beforehand in the pub nearby.

To be honest, I would say this was my most favorite team building activity to date. It didn’t feel like forced fun, it was engaging for everyone and we all were able to contribute.

6. Picnic

I think this has only ever worked for me once, on a team away day and we were doing it as a team building exercise rather than an end-of-project celebration. Still, it is something to consider, and quite cheap if everyone brings a dish.

We played outdoor games too, like rounders and frisbee.

Virtual ways to celebrate as a team

Let’s face it, celebrating success at work isn’t always possible to do with the whole team together. If you can’t mark a project milestone or say thanks for a job well done in-person, then virtual gatherings are your next best choice. Here are some options to choose from.

7. Virtual scavenger hunt

You can do a really simple virtual scavenger hunt or use a company and pre-packaged product to do something similar online.

Have a look at what a few providers offer and see if you want to invest in that kind of activity for your team. If you are stuck with budget, you can do it yourself and my guide to running a virtual scavenger hunt will show you how to organize one at no cost.

8. Online quizzes

Get everyone together for a Zoom quiz or use one of the many online platforms now available that facilitate quizzes. Make up your own questions or use one of the pre-provided quizzes inside your tool.

9. Virtual magic show

During lockdown, I attended a virtual magic show via Zoom and it was great. It was interactive and people could get involved. We had information sent to us in advance so we could print out cards to join in.

I’m sure you could find something similar if your team would enjoy this activity.

10. Virtual comedy club

Another lockdown adventure: we signed up to a comedy club pass so we could watch the show remotely. It gave us the option to do something different of an evening. You may well find that comedians or other performers will do corporate gigs so you can have more control over the timings.

If you have a favorite comedy club or act it is worth reaching out to them to see if they are open to the idea of remote, corporate work.

11. Virtual escape room

I organized an escape room for my team and it worked really well. We did it as a Christmas team event instead of a way of celebrating success at work, but it’s a versatile option.

You do have to choose a good provider though. We used one that had live actors, so while a lot of the work was online navigation and hunting down details on the internet (so much fun! and so much work had gone into it), the whole thing was framed with live actors, just like a real Zoom call.

Ideas that work for every environment

Celebrating success at work might be a team thing, or it might be something you want to do to mark an individual’s contribution. Here are some more ideas that work in every situation.

12. Say ‘Thank you!’

It costs nothing to say thank you, and it’s my belief that you should do so as often as possible. You can never appreciate people too much. And you don’t have to wait for a significant milestone to do so. Just say it whenever.

You can also email a thank you message. Some people will appreciate this more as they can file it away for their end of year review more easily than if you had just said it.

13. Time off

If it’s within your power, offering time off works well. If your team have had to put in a lot of unrecognized (or unpaid) overtime to get to the point where you are now celebrating success, then try to recognize that by giving it back to them as time off in lieu.

People work a lot of extra hours — research shows over a month of unpaid overtime every year — so if that rings true for you, make sure you let people claim the time back. It’s only fair.

I have found it hard to make this happen as a project manager. If it is anything more than just letting it be known that you don’t mind if they stop work early, then it will involve their line manager.

Check out your company’s policies on leave and talk to line managers so that everyone is in the loop.

14. A letter from your sponsor

Many people like to know that those higher up have recognized their efforts and appreciate them. I once got our CEO to write letters of thanks to a large team who were instrumental in getting one project to the next significant milestone.

It meant a lot to people to know that he was aware of what the team had achieved.

15. Gift vouchers

Gift vouchers can work well and can equally fall flat. I once got some vouchers for a shop that was miles away and inconvenient to get to. Not a great gift.

However, many vouchers today can be used online as well as in real stores, often in multiple stores. Gift vouchers can be a bit of a cop out but they are good on large teams and let people choose a thank you present for themselves.

We use them for staff recognition, and I got one for coming 3rd place in our directorate pumpkin carving competition.

16. Company scheme

If your company runs a staff recognition scheme then use it! Many companies have schemes that offer small gifts to individuals and teams based on their contribution to business success. If it comes with a certificate then that’s even better.

As someone on the receiving end of this way of celebrating success in the workplace, I think that a physical card is better than a digital celebration on the company’s Yammer, or in the MS Teams chat. I know there is a place for digital thank yous, but I would prefer a real, tangible card.

Given the commitment to greener ways of working and the fact that so many people are not in the office working, we do have to come up with other ways. I supposed I am going to have to get used to online ‘walls’ and ‘feeds’ and saying thanks via the company scheme through that!

17. Supplier gifts

Back in the days before the recession hit, suppliers often had a lot of free samples to give away. You might be working on a project with a vendor who still has got a budget for giveaways.

I once bought gift bags (and didn’t charge them to the project budget, in case you were wondering) and then commandeered the best freebies I could from a range of vendors. We got umbrellas, USB keys, nice pens and I can’t remember what else. Then I filled a bag each for the team.

I have no idea if they appreciated a bag of what was effectively free stuff but I still use my free umbrella.

If a supplier helped you get to this point, there’s no harm in asking them if they will contribute to something to help celebrate the success achieved.

18. Gift from you

If you can’t get the money from your company or a supplier for a gift, and (importantly) you can afford it, think about giving your dedicated team members something from yourself.

I have bought my team gifts before: again, bottles of wine. I chose wine from the year that they started on the project – it was a project that ran for several years and we had worked together closely over that time.

19. Coffee card

I wish people celebrated my successes by giving me a gift card for Pret! I’d even take Starbucks.

If picking up a coffee on the way to work is part of the fabric of your team then this would be a welcome small treat. You don’t need to load it with much money for it to be worth a couple of coffees.

If your team work virtually, you can still give virtual cards that can be redeemed at a location close to them.

20. A book

Why not thank you team for a job well done by buying them a book? How about this excellent book, Shortcuts to Success to help them manage their work better? Oh yes, I wrote that!

Don’t know what to organize? Ask them

If you don’t instinctively know what your team would like from this list – or you can’t tell if they would like any of them, then you don’t know your team very well. That’s OK, it happens. Especially on big teams.

The best way to find out how people would like to be thanked is to ask them.

Yes, it takes away some of the spontaneity but in my experience people would much rather get something they want than something they don’t value. Most individuals will appreciate the fact that you care enough to thank them in a way that is meaningful to them.

Which of these have you tried?