The mood was lighter than it had been in a long time. My team had just finished a grueling project that had all of us putting in extra hours for weeks. We were exhausted. But that wasn’t the only reason for the boost in morale; as a reward for our hard work, our manager was taking us to Dave & Buster’s, a restaurant/arcade that features everything from bowling to Pac Man.
The idea of going to a place where adults were encouraged to “let your inner child loose” had everyone excited, to say the least. We were a close-knit group who got along really well, organizing our own happy hour events, softball games, and gift exchanges. Logging long hours had dampened the usually upbeat mood in the office, and we were looking forward to relieving the stress by playing games.
But on the day of our trip, our manager was unusually quiet and stayed behind the closed doors of his office, until it was almost time to leave, when he abruptly announced that the outing had been postponed. He mumbled something about having to go home, and left.
It was initially rescheduled, but then cancelled again, for reasons we never learned. And the result was a whole lot of resentment. We didn’t understand why he would promise us something, then renege, with no explanation. For all the money the project brought in, a trip to Dave & Buster’s was a relatively small price to pay for a much-needed morale boost. And even if there wasn’t money in the budget, he could’ve made up for it by giving us a Friday off, or taking us out for pizza.
The thing is, it doesn’t take much to lighten the mood in the office. In fact, sometimes the smallest gesture can make a big difference. But if you fail to deliver on a promise — big or small — you’re going to have a huge problem.
In a recent blog, Flagler Hospital CIO Bill Rieger (one of our leadership/culture gurus) talked about a “small thing” he recently did to boost spirits. In a rather unconventional move, he purchased a ping pong table for the conference room. The impact was felt immediately. “People laughed, smiled, got up from their desk to see what all the fuss was about. There was excitement and teamwork,” he wrote. “You would have thought we had just distributed $500 bills to everyone.”
The table, according to Rieger, is a symbol of the culture change he has been working to implement throughout his organization. He could have easily changed his mind for fear of what other senior leaders might think, but to him, it was worth it. “I wanted to breathe fresh life into my team,” he said. “Everyone works so hard and having a little fun will make them work harder.”
And he is by no means the only one with the recipe to the secret sauce.
In past interviews, several other CIOs have shared stories about some of the seemingly small measures they’ve taken to improve morale, and each time, the result is the same: a more united, revitalized staff.
Bobbie Byrne, CIO at Edward Elmhurt Healthcare, throws a party for opening day for the Chicago White Sox with ballpark-style hot dogs. At North Shore-LIJ, CIO John Bosco’s team bonds through pizza Fridays and Super Bowl parties. “You have to think of everything that you can that will give the employees a little mental health break once in a while,” Bosco said.
Even New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan knows the value of taking a break for some much-needed team bonding. He recently treated his players to a night at Dave & Busters on the night before a game.
It’s rare that I’ll ever compliment Ryan, but he did the right thing. If you pledged to host a holiday party, or uphold summer Fridays, keep your word. Once you have gained the respect of your team, they are more likely to deliver the peak amount of quality work possible.
It just goes to show that you don’t have to offer huge rewards or make big promises — you just have to keep them.