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I just started at my first “real” job as a programmer out of college two months ago at a large corporation. For some reason, my manager and other managers thought it would be an excellent idea for me to plan the annual holiday outing for this year for their teams (35-40 people in total).

I have never really worked at an office before, let alone planned an office party. I didn't want to back down because that would send a negative impression. I have already received a budget (a rather tight one at that), headcount, and a day. They seem partial to bowling.

What are some things I should keep in my mind so I can pull this off smoothly without any incident?

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    Random thought, but maybe also use this opportunity to start a party planning committee for next year to help out the next person that lands in your shoes. – Kimberly W Nov 6 '16 at 20:10
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    @par people have been known to post on behalf of one of their friends/family to help protect them, or so that they can provide good advice to them. – Anketam Nov 6 '16 at 22:37
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    Is this considered a typical and customary thing to ask in their culture, or are they asking only because you're female (as @djechlin suggested)? What did previous new hires say? Please clarify in the question. – smci Nov 7 '16 at 12:41
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    Are you by any chance the only girl in the office? I am. You need to set your boundaries early if you don't want to play the role of office mom. – McCann Nov 7 '16 at 14:54
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    This may be a good way to get to know everyone in the office. – Ian Nov 7 '16 at 15:00
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What are some things I should keep in my mind so I can pull this off smoothly without any incident?

Talk with the person who arranged last year's party and (as @ErnestFriedman-Hill points out) anyone who attended that party.

Learn what worked well then, and what didn't. And take the "bowling" hint to heart.

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    Is there a reason "bowling" is in quotes? Wondering if I'm missing something... – Mehrdad Nov 8 '16 at 10:04
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When in doubt, ask (for help)

Nobody expects a college graduate to single-handedly do an office party. For that matter, even experienced people generally cannot organize something like that alone. To me, it sounds like the management's way of letting the newbie "break ice" with the established folks, especially since you mention multiple managers called it an excellent idea.

You could go back to your manager(s) and ask what kind of a party they are looking for.

Hey < manager's name >, I am really excited about organizing this office party, but I am afraid I haven't done anything like this before. Could you please give me some ideas on what kind of a party we want to have?

This is a decent conversation starter, and then from there, you could go into the specifics, such as the location (if it is outside the office premises), the duration of the party, the kind of food/drinks to be served, events to be organized, etc.

However, this doesn't work so well if you don't have a fair rapport with your manager, so as an alternative, you could approach a senior colleague with some of these questions before approaching the manager for a more focussed discussion. In particular, it is helpful to get in touch with people who have organized the previous office parties. Beyond this point, you need to rely on your own creativity, and pull in other people to help as needed.

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    I'd be pretty shocked if a recent college graduate couldn't call a bowling alley and make a reservation for 40 people. Most bowling alleys would be happy to have that kind of turnout and would even work with you on your budget. – par Nov 6 '16 at 21:09
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    @par the ceo and billionaire investors hes invited might be no plussed with the lack of caviar. Or the budget strapped team lead might find themselves paying for it out of their pocket. the difficulty is in knowing what is appropriate to your audience – Ewan Nov 6 '16 at 23:18
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    @par Bowling is just one part of the party, and we don't even know if the team really wants that. Organizing an office party for 40 people is not that easy. – Masked Man Nov 7 '16 at 0:26
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    I think the important part is: "Organize the party" usually means you are responsible of calling, scheduling and doing all the legwork, not that you have to throw the party on your own. - They just need someone to ask all the questions, call the right people and do the tedious organizing stuff - which don't require any special skills, just a lot of time. – Falco Nov 7 '16 at 10:28
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    @par I don't think the questions the OP would be asking are along the lines of, "How do I call a bowling alley?" They're more along the lines of, "Which aspects of our office's culture (that maybe I haven't learned about yet) should I keep in mind when planning something involving the whole team?" – Kevin Nov 8 '16 at 23:34
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So you are on your first job. You are a programmer. And you have been asked to organize a party for 35/40 people. I hope it's a joke on part of your new colleagues. If it's serious, then something is wrong with the company.

In my culture it's kind of normal to tell a new guy or gal, especially if they seem naive, that "every new employee so far bought tons of donuts for the entire office" or "at the evening of your first salary all the drinks are on you". The correct response is always "haha, a good one!".

Even if you initially fell for that, when they nag you again you can always politely say "Aww come on already. I'll buy you a pack of chips tomorrow but I need you to behave.".

What seems off is that they got managers and budget to play along; can they be in such hilarious mood of epic proportions?

If a company has more than 35 employees, then obviously there is a person responsible for arranging such a party. And I mean professional responsibility, it is their job, as policemen giving tickets or as yours is programming. And that person is not a programmer, believe me! (hint hint) They are not taking your programming tasks, you don't do their team-spirit tasks.

Anyway go to your manager and tell them you recognize the wonderful opportunity, but you've decided to pass on that. At this point stop talking and look at them in silence. If reason is required, do tell that your dog fell seriously ill. You have my official permission to act tongue-in-cheek as needed. This will work perfectly whether it was a joke or not.

The very important lesson about professional opportunities is to know which ones to pass. You are not a slave but a skilled worker, so you will let pass most of opportunities in your career. Here, truly the worst case scenario is that you will ruin some of your career options, for example, you will have no chance to become an office attendant, or a PR specialist, or a CEO for this company. But your rating as a programmer, and respect for you, can only go up.

I've just noticed that you're a girl! I came back to re-examine every sentence of my answer and everything still applies. Some of it applies even more seriously. I hope I'm mistaken, but in some cultures - I repeat, in some - if a fresh girl does organize such party successfully, it can lead to future expectations towards her.

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    Why is that a "troll" answer? quite honestly, I find it hard to believe anyone would give the new guy a task like that after only two months. Normally that would be organised by the management or the someone in the admin team. Weird! I smell fish. – Matt Nov 6 '16 at 21:53
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    I disagree. We have a department of 40 people in a company of over 1000 employees and we don't have any "party organizing position". Organizing a party for our department is usually done by a manger or project lead and many times delegated to an employee who has the time to do it. - It doesn't require any special skill - any assistant or student could do it. You ask around what kind of party people want, what budget you have and if there are good places which were used last time. Then you just call there and set up a reservation. Our trainees can do this easily... – Falco Nov 7 '16 at 10:32
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    @Falco But you do have the responsbile positions among the 1000 employees. They are not doing their job for your team, I'm sorry. The party could be organized spontaneously by anyone interested, if the team is like a huge loving family. Or by the manager. Anyone who is interested knows it's as simple to do as their own 30th birhtday. But it's still not a thing a manager could simply delegate to a newcomer. – kubanczyk Nov 7 '16 at 10:51
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    Good answer but I want to point out that 35 employees is still a small company and while it's rare, some really don't have any dedicated admin staff that would be in charge of events like this. Some managers also dump admin work on new hires while they're getting up to speed with the technical side. It's not the best use of their time but it's not as outrageous as you state here and it can be a good way to become familiar with a new company or new colleagues. Finally I agree that the possibility of subconscious sexism is worth mentioning but the OP is not a girl, she's a woman. – Lilienthal Nov 7 '16 at 11:32
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    As a programmer, I would be utterly shocked, flabbergasted and insulted to be asked to do this. Even imagining back when I was a new hire - in any size organization. I can't help feeling it's sexist in this case. Though I loathe to assume it. There's always someone, in the smallest company, in some kind of administrative role who is better suited to do this. Maybe it's in a culture, unfamiliar to me, where treating employees like waiting staff isn't such a big deal. – PandaWood Nov 8 '16 at 0:26
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Here's what you do:

  1. Figure out how much money you have to spend. What, they gave you a budget already?? Step 1: DONE
  2. Find up to three local bowling alleys. Depending on where you live there may not even be that many.
  3. Call them and tell them you want to have a party for 40 people. Ask them the following questions

    3a. Can they support up to 40 people?

    3b. What dates are available for 40 people?

    3c. What does that cost?

    3d. Do they have alcohol available?

    3e. If no alcohol, can you bring in your own?

Armed with the above information:

  1. Choose the bowling alley that fits. If more than one fits, choose the one that serves booze. If more than one fits and serves booze, pick either. If you want to be really sporting, ask your manager if he/she prefers bowling alley A or B (both must serve booze to be eligible for asking). If he/she doesn't care, pick one. If he/she makes a suggestion, pick that one.

  2. If no bowling alley could be reserved on the above criteria, call some nearby restaurants and repeat the above.

  3. Now tell your manager and colleagues when and where, and whether they have to pay for their own booze or not (your budget dictated that).

  4. Have fun, get props, make money.

p.s. Let's hope there are some incidents.

  • 6
    +1 I love this answer. The task of organizing a company party can seem very overwhelming for someone who hasn't done it before, but in reality, it's quite simple. All it takes is a few phone calls to find out who can accommodate your numbers/budget and you're done. – Dryden Long Nov 7 '16 at 14:37
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    Good advice, but I'd also add that you might want to consider a couple more points; 1) eating - is food available and will people expect it? 2) is transport available and will people be expecting it - if its a boozy party then you don't want people driving. There might be budget for taxis or a bus. Also I'd add that is pretty normal to get the office junior to organise the Christmas party. – Qwerky Nov 7 '16 at 18:17
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    You'll probably get some timely, helpful input from some of your coworkers or superiors. Great. You'll likely get some unhelpful, vague, after-the-fact "advice." Ignore that. – brian_o Nov 7 '16 at 21:25
  • I'd ask manger who assigned task about booze. I worked for a large company that had a strict no booze policy. – MaxW Nov 8 '16 at 19:20
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I would decline to do this as they are seriously underestimating and diluting your ability as a programmer and you need to stop this nonsense as early in your career and relationship with them as possible.

Don't get stuck being the office mom.

Be judicious. If this seems like rote hazing for a new hire just to get you to talk to people, and if they really do expect it to be as easy as making a few phone calls and booking a place (ask!), then join in. If it seems like they expect you to "good with parties" because you are young or female, consider taking the opportunity to define your role and your expectations of it.

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    Excellent advice, but it may be tricky for someone new to the workplace to judge the situation accurately, in which case I'd err on the side of declining or limiting your involvement. Even without the gender component this kind of work is not great for a career as another article I'd recommend says: "You want to be known as a great engineer / spokesperson / lawyer / whatever your job is — not as a great baker [unless that’s your job] or fill-in receptionist or office mom." – Lilienthal Nov 7 '16 at 11:41
  • Hmm, I didn't notice the OP was female. If they think the request is because they're female, then possibly. Otherwise, I'd say it was terrible advice and probably a big faux pas, depending on the company, and their culture. It's possible to organize a bowling session in an hour without leaving your desk, using Yelp/word of mouth, a telephone, and a purchase authorization or credit card. Obviously you agree limits on the amount of time and energy this tasks takes. Noone is asking anyone to be "the office mom". – smci Nov 7 '16 at 12:39
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You have a few answers that tell you to back off immediately, that it is a joke or you are getting set up to be the "office mom". You have one answer that gives you a very concrete step by step guide on how to actually do it (only slightly tongue-in-cheek).

One caveat: if you simply do not want to do such a thing, are uncomfortable with the job itself, are afraid to talk with other people over the phone and such, then ignore this answer, go to your boss and just say no. If, on the other hand you have no problem with all of this, and are just unsure whether it will benefit or hurt your standing in the company, then read on.

Let me add a fully "pro party service" answer with zero tongue-in-cheek:

  1. I have worked in 40-60 person companies, as well as in 10-15 person teams within much larger companies. I can very well see how such a bunch of people could all simply be technical folks who have no pleasure and no interest in organizing parties or other social events. There was never a dedicated "party organizer". Sometimes there were folks who did big events, but they would not really bother about small ones like a few people going to a bowling alley. So, there is, in my opinion, no immediate reason to suspect bad intent.
  2. I find it quite normal that a new person is asked to do this. They are not asking you to do table-dancing on the evening of the party, but they are asking you to manage a small project. Period. It does not matter that it is about merry-making. It could as well be a customer event or some other team-building event with real content (be glad that it is not!). It still needs professional conduct on your side. Your benefit is that it needs no previous knowledge about anything whatsoever, so you are likely as well suited as everybody else.
  3. The actual "doing" should be quite "doable" for you. It is a simple process - find a location, check out all the details, organize payment and such. Think of it like implementing an algorithm.
  4. Be 100% sure about what you are not going to do. You are not going to hand-hold everybody to the alley. You are not going to serve drinks while there. You are not going to bring a cake that you baked at home. You are not going to do anything else than the other people at that evening. You can and should be upfront about this ("manage the expectations of your customer"). You organize the alley and maybe set up a Doodle to find out who is going to attend; you may help them distribute people into cars and such. You take all decisions that you reasonably can (everybody will be glad for every single point you decide instead of coming back to ask them). But you are not going to be a handmaiden for anyone here. This is important.
  5. Make it so there is a clear "handoff" where the bowling alley is now in charge. I.e., your organizational job ends at the point of time where everybody stands at the alley entrance, right before you grab your shoes. After that, the alley personnel will do the rest (whatever they do - take orders, bring food/drink etc.). You can easily hand over the process of managing the actual bowling (making teams and such) to someone who has bowling experience. You are not responsible for whatever happens after this point. And then enjoy the evening!
    • One remark on legalities: at least in my country, an organizer of an event has certain legal obligations. In your case, I would, at the start of the event, tell them in a sober way that your part is now officially over and they are on their own now ("behave yourself, I will not be held responsible for whatever happens now" - as tongue-in-cheek as necessary, but still plainly understandable). You should also give a time where the event officially ends (which should be at or before the time you intend to leave yourself). People are free to stay longer, but it will be 100% clear that they are not here on "business time".
    • Additionally, if your boss is there, then clearly put all responsibility in his hand ("I am not a bowling expert, so Mr. Xyz will take on from here as our official host of the evening."). After that, you clearly step back. Let him walk everybody into the alley and so on. Do that before you get your shoes, so, in case something really unlucky happens, everybody including the alley personnel remembers who brought your troupe inside.

While it may sound like a trivial setup to you, it may not be one. Being the guy (or girl) who can do such things in a company is not a sign that you are less worthy as a programmer. If you are afraid that you will always be the "girl" amongst the manly programmers and that they hence will think less of you, that may or may not be due to you organizing an event. But then you have a much larger problem than a bowling evening, anyways.

The benefits of being a person who can actually manage events on top of being a good programmer (or whatever job description you have) are plenty - and if you do this one right, you will get to do more events later.

  • It might transfer into managing customer events or earnest internal events eventually. That is not an easy job, it comes with standing, and everybody will be honestly glad to have you around.
  • It will let you grow as a person; you get to "boss people around", you get to make decisions without having to refer to some lead developer all the time, and so on. If you do it well, it will be huge for your self-esteem. If you do it bad, you will get very direct feedback, which is not the worst that can happen to a human. Responsibility.
  • If you are slightly uncomfortable doing the actual deeds (calling the alley, trying to organize an event and such), that is a great opportunity to work on that. Communication skills and organizational skills are always useful.
  • If you do it right, people will simply like you for it, which isn't the worst, in any company. You will stand out a lot, and, unless you fail, in an undoubtedly positive way.
  • Your CV will contain "event coordinator", letting you expand on that in case you later find out that you actually like that kind of work. Sure, you are seeing yourself as a programmer now, but there will be a time in 10, 20, 30 years when you are going to want to develop further. Starting out with relatively easy jobs on the side like this is a very smooth path to more earnest endeavours.
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You are newbie to the office and you have just left the safe haven of your college. They know that. This task is probably both another test who you actually are (do you fit to the rest of the herd) and the probe how to approach you (nerd e-male, showman,...).

In work practice anyone is sometimes facing task they are not trained to handle. There can be customer that wants something special, out of the company scope. In that case fast and accurate approach is needed and money are at risk...

You are now thrown to simillar situation; you have never organised office party. The only risk is that somebody would say "That was waste of time".


As a solution, I would:

  • ask colleagues and manager what were last parties about. (Movie evening, bowling, karts,...),
  • ask them how they enjoyed it,
  • make a list of activities You would like to base the party on,
  • ask your colleagues and manager(s) what are their preferences.

Then find two or three most preferred and enjoyed activity. The bets one is the target, but prepare some escape plans when something goes wrong. Remember the parties you attended in the college and use them as an inspiration.

And last but not least: Be relaxed and enjoy it!

protected by Chris E Nov 7 '16 at 16:40

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