Digital Insights

Holiday Team Building Rules to Always Follow


Published: December 28, 2015

The holidays can be the cheeriest time of year and also the most stressful. More team members may be out for holiday vacation, increasing workload on those that remain. Different employees may celebrate in different traditions – traditions which can interrupt significant dates on the business calendar. As a manager, navigating these various and sundry challenges can feel like an entire job in itself!

In this post, learn which holiday team building rules are sacrosanct.


Rule #1: Keep Any in-Office or Public Celebrations Tradition-Neutral.

keeping holiday themes neutral

It is easy all too easy to forget that the word “holiday” is not synonymous with “Christmas.” And employees who do not share the majority traditions may not protest aloud, but they may feel excluded just the same. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they may resent “command performance” holiday office events centered around a theme they do not celebrate.


What to do instead:

  • The phrase “happy holidays” is golden here.
  • Keep messages, color schemes, party themes and other pertinent details as neutral as possible.
  • Take care to avoid scheduling a holiday party right on top of any religious group’s most significant holiday dates.


Rule #2: Remember Your Remote Workforce.

If you work with a team that is spread out across cities or countries, it is important to find ways to include them in any holiday team building events, parties or activities. Whether this means you schedule a party via Skype or send everyone an invite to Google Hangout festivities. Remember that including everyone sends an important message about how valued each team member is to you and to the entire group.

What to do instead:

  • Poll your entire team and find out what works best for them.
    • This can be tricky if you are coping with very diverse time zones or a number of different holiday traditions. But do your very best and your team will sense this – even if, in the end, not everyone can attend.



Rule #3: Incorporate Giving Back, but in a Way That Stresses No One.

Random acts of holiday kindness fall outside no tradition’s activity list, and if you plan to include partners and families in your holiday festivities, incorporating a charitable element makes for a great group activity that everyone can share. However, be aware that not everyone on your team may be in a position to contribute financially, so be sure there are multiple ways for your team to participate.

random acts of kindness are always in

What to do instead:

  • If there is an option for financial giving, volunteer service, crafts-making (such as cookie decorating) and other acts of kindness, then everyone on your team will likely be able to find a stress-free way to join in.
  • Creating a charity-centric event that doesn’t require your team to take extra non-work time away from their families will earn you extra bonus points.


Rule #4: Don’t Mess with Long-Standing Traditions….Especially if You Are New to the Team.

If you have just joined the company this year and are managing employees who have been together for far longer, it should go without saying that you don’t mess with long-standing holiday traditions that your employees look forward to each year.

What to do instead:

  • Take this as an opportunity to allow your employees to teach you a bit about the company and team culture.
  • Offer your full support and join in to the fullest.



Rule #5: Be Mindful of Team Members Who May Be Less Naturally Self-Moderating.

You may be one of the lucky managers whose team members are all on the up and up on their own. No one imbibes too freely, dresses inappropriately or brings a date that gets the rest of the team talking. But in most teams, there is usually at least one person who needs a little help in self-moderating.

What to do instead:

  • Plan the office festivities around this person and there is far less risk of a team that heads into the new year fragmented by juicy gossip, bad blood, resentments or other issues that occur when adult beverages and late hours are involved.



Rule #6: When in Doubt, Issue an Official Policy on Holiday-Related Practices.

This can include anything from how employees are allowed to decorate their personal workspaces to what constitutes an “appropriate costume” for a New Year’s Eve masked ball. While no one really wants an extra dose of policy after a whole year of enduring (or writing) the same, it beats spending your entire holiday doing damage control for team members excluded by differing traditions.

What to do instead:

  • Refresh your knowledge of workplace law, including statutes on discrimination, harassment and mandatory employee participation.
  • This will allow you to steer clear of bad feelings and potential lawsuits.


Rule #7: Ask Your Team What Works Best for Them.

Stay Connected with your Employees and keep them happy

Finally, if you come into a corporate business where holiday traditions are not often celebrated, rather than assume they are wanted or needed, do some polling to find out what your team prefers. Perhaps the feeling is that “holidays are for family” and so everyone knows they won’t be taxed with extra team building “work” during the hectic holiday season.

What to do instead:

  • Use an anonymous survey tool like the free SurveyMonkey to allow honest results.
  • If you decide that team building is needed but your team seems unenthusiastic about a holiday activity, consider moving it to the first quarter of the New Year when everyone has had a chance to rest a bit.



With these seven holiday team building rules in place, you can look forward to a festive holiday atmosphere where everyone feels respected and included.


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