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Two weeks ago I attended a session about project management. The teacher told us it is very important to have a "Kickoff-Party" every time a new project is about to begin and also have a "Goal-Party" when important milestones are reached. He told us it would be important to do so to keep the team motivated.

I must admit I've been in the software development business for almost 20 years and I never did something like that. Is it really common to do those kind of events?

At my current company we don't really have "big goals" that much. Just a never ending list of wishes and requests from the customers and the management. You never really feel like you finished something big and important because there are already too many things waiting.

I have to admit this is not very motivating. A party now and then would be nice but is it really important to keep the team motivated like this?

  • Like you, I've never been invited to or attended a "Kick off" or "Goal" party. I have, however, been to numerous "Project End" parties and many companies have yearly or twice yearly get togethers. I agree these social events are very important (And the more the merrier, to be honest), but I've never seen them in the sense you describe. – Dan Feb 27 '14 at 12:41
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They're JUST Nice Perks

They're nice for:

  • team bonding,
  • fun time and relaxation,
  • outlining beginning and start of projects, getting a sense of closure and all.

But mostly just team bonding and a sense of closure, really.

They're NOT Enough. Not by a Long Shot.

Comapnies that do just before and after parties do it wrong. They're generally overly cheap and they won't offset the efforts the employees put in. Especially if they went extra miles, fixed problems that weren't theirs (X got sick, fired, left, or messed up and they picked up the mess), put in some overtime, etc...

What you want is to make hard-work feel like good work, not like busy work. Improve their working experience and time at the office. You don't do that by almost forcing them to come to another company event (especially if it's during their free time...).

Alternatives

There are countless other things you can do:

  • allocate more days off,
  • buy them trainings on things THEY choose,
  • constant free (and healthy) food at the office,
  • relaxation areas,
  • company discounts on travels,
  • gift cards,
  • bonuses.

They've got more motivational pull than a free lunch or an awkward company-sponsored binge-drinling opportunity that not everybody might enjoy to attend.

Of course it's hard to please every one, but at least the fact that you try is good enough, and that you don't seem to be cheap about it and to just use a carrot to lead them.

Everybody hates it when they slave for weeks and then just get a lousy 2 hour lunch or just a evening party. Sure that cost you money, but it doesn't take away the bitterness.

Of course if everything else is already pretty great in your company and nothing is too important or urgent to improve (by your employees's own admission in totally anonymous surveys), then by all means, focus on the parties.

Motivation Comes from Conviction First and Foremost

But all the above is not what motivates people. Money might, for a while, but only if they like what they do will it keep them at it long enough. Otherwise at some point interest will fade. Same for just a fancy and fun environment.

They need to believe - at least a little bit - that what they do matters. For starters, that means it's on you to hire the right persons for the right jobs. And you need to make them feel like what they do is useful, and that they can take pride in it. You don't necessarily need "big goals" or to have them convinced they'll "change the world", like I see in so many soon-to-be-defunct startups' ads. But they need to feel some degree of pride in what they do, if you want that to translate to a certain degree of commitment.

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A few points:

  • Kickoff parties/completion parties does make sense when you have clear goals to be achieved during a specific time (Roadmap teams are more likely to have these). Eg: Starting of UAT at customer site and the completion of UAT(User Acceptance Testing). If you are a team which does continuous customer support, there might not be clear goals to be achieved or be happy about.
  • The call of whether to have parties depends on the company culture. Remember, asking your teammates to put money from their own pockets for kicking off a project may not fly. Hence, the organisation has to allow you as a manager to organize these parties (By allocating funds and time for the same).
  • Does it motivate a team? Parties like these are meant to give a sense of reward to the individuals. Once a milestone has been achieved, going out for a lunch or for a day's outing would definitely take some steam off the employees and allow them to feel more relaxed.

All said and done, how effectively will a party motivate an individual is a non deterministic factor. Some might feel happy that the organisation is providing some less stressful time by organizing parties, while some might get motivated by pure financial/career related incentives.

PS: Parties help to socialize with the team members as well. Hence providing a kick off party might help in improving the chemistry between the team members.

  • @JoeStrazzere Agreed. But many of the companies have a per-quarter fund allocation for parties/outings. Hence, most of the times, the timing of the party has to be coordinated by the manager concerned to match the kickoff/completion of a project. Personally I haven't seen/heard of a company with unlimited kickoff parties yet. – Ricketyship Feb 27 '14 at 18:48
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The importance of Kick off parties are, in my opinion, for a newly formed team to get a chance to meet in person. At times the team might be from different departments or offices. If you are supposed to work tightly together for a period of time, it makes communication a lot easier having put a face to the email address. It's also a good opportunity to make sure everyone have the same ideas regarding the goals of the project.

The "party" part doesn't have to be a big deal, but everyone involved in the team should have met physically at least once. Cake is required however.

Goal parties, well, I haven't been to many of them either and have managed to keep motivated anyway. So I wouldn't see them as a requirement. But if you have worked hard toward a goal, its certainly a nice feeling to be able to celebrate your achievement with your colleagues.

Also note that
"Just a never ending list of wishes and requests from the customers and the managment" means you are not really working in a project. This sounds like regular maintenance work to me. It's far to common to use the term project about almost anything.

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The importance of goal parties, kick-off parties and other none development / deployment-related nonsense all has to do with human nature.

Maslow's heirarchy of needs (which Peter Drucker himself was a big fan of) states that people have these needs, more or less in this order:

  1. Physiological (Food, shelter)
  2. Safety (food, shelter for tomorrow. No leopards in the cave.)
  3. Love/Belonging (Friendship)
  4. Esteem (achievement)
  5. Self-actualization (creativity)

The paycheque a company provides, even if it is very big, can only cover need #1 and perhaps need #2. Therefore, without some means of covering these additional needs, some (not all) employees will feel dissatisfied.

All employees are different - that's why some love wrap parties, and some hate them. However, throwing a party celebrating the team's good works provides both Belonging and Esteem. This is very important for morale!

Employees who have their financial needs met but don't feel a sense of belonging or esteem will not put forward their best work. They will feel "unappreciated." To avoid this, throw a party, award them a plaque, or just appreciate them.

In conclusion, every employee weighs the five needs differently. You need to see if a party is right for your team - however, everybody appreciates esteem and respect.

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No way to determine that. If your company were in New Orleans, LA, everybody likes a party. Step out on that Second Line!

It's like determining if anything else is a motivator, does it make a difference in getting the desirable outcome?

Make some evaluation on how "motivated" people were at the start of your projects with and without a party. Feel fee to give it a score of 1-10 (Basically a Likert Scale). Decide which is better.

If you're not going to throw a party, what are you going to do instead with the time and money? Is that more beneficial?

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I personally have never been motivated by a party alone. I don't even get how this would be supposed to work. How can a party be motivating just by itself?

What I clearly acknowledge though is that if party is not an instrument but a true expression of happiness and gratitude for whatever thing has been achieved in or by the company, something like management just have to share something because it's bursting out of them, it can have a very good impact on the team spirit, even to me. In that respect I believe that people have a very good sense for whether something is just a tactical instrument or if someone is really trying to share something and honestly saying "thank you" for whatever it is.

I also guarantee from my personal experience that people are different. Some people like a barbequeue or a party in/with the company every now and then and see it as something that makes their work life cool and motivates them, others see it as a waste of time and would rather like to get something done at their desk or spend time with the family instead.

Most of all you should never forget your own mentality. If you're not a party person, it's unlikely that your parties will excite those who like parties. You probably have more authentic ways of encouraging and motivating people in that case.

If you're unsure, how about openly asking the project team what would be a reward or thank-you they'd be looking forward to when the project is finished?

Years ago worked in a company that did super-expensive parties and were quite proud of it, but the salaries they paid were below average. It always gave me a feeling of: They throw an expensive party that makes everyone feel like royals, where they spend, say, $500 per person, which gives a shiny touch to the job, but effectively the company just saves a lot of money as opposed to simply paying people properly and really making long-term commitments with it. The expensive parties looked so generous and grateful on the surface, but to me there was a bitter taste about it.

Bottom line: I think it's not the act that counts, it's the true emotion behind it that counts. If that's positive and authentic, go for it. If however you feel weird about it or it's purely tactical in the first place, consider something else or not doing it at all.

If team motivation isn't good, look for the real reasons, simply more parties might barely patch it up if at all.

That being said it's becoming customary in many companies that employees start expecting their workplaces to be an area where work and leisure time melt together. Even if you don't feel personally inclined to follow that trend, notice it at least, and consider it a valid factor that might encourage people to work for you and do their best for you or not.

Nonetheless they're all individuals, in the end you will need a solution for those individuals, not some textbook thing.

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