Organizations build and strengthen their cultures in many ways. Some do it by hosting events and activities, like office Olympics or Ping Pong tournaments. Others foster a healthy culture through transparency, involving staff in decision-making, or providing a clear, meaningful vision.
But regardless of what you and your company do to promote a strong culture, there is one simple action you can take that's worth its weight in cultural gold: Hosting a year-end reflection session.
TAPPING INTO HUMAN NATURE
As human beings, we function best when we have defined beginnings and endings. As kids, we knew the date that school started and when it ended. And, when we completed a grade level, we had a sense of accomplishment that felt great. That chapter of our lives was closed, but we knew another was about to begin. It’s the same with seasons of the year. For those of us who live in climates that include freezing weather, there is no better feeling than when the snow starts to melt and the sun begins to shine brighter and warmer.
If you run a department or a business, studies show that a great way to tap into this very human need for closure is to hold an annual wrap-up session. This type of meeting allows everyone to reflect on what the team or company accomplished during the year.
One of the benefits of a session like this is that it doesn’t require much preparation. If you’re the leader, your role is to simply get the sharing started. Your team will happily jump in and talk about all of the important achievements for the year.
YEAR-END REFLECTING AT APPOINTMENTPLUS
This year, our annual gathering was done in mid-December. Everyone was busy trying to finish up work before the holidays. But we still found a morning when we could squeeze in an hour to get together.
We arranged chairs in concentric circles so that everyone could see everyone else. This helped to encourage participation, and made it clear that this wasn’t a one-way lecture. We placed a microphone and speaker in the middle of the room so that our staff in India and other remote employees could easily hear and participate.
Employees jumped in and talked about memorable events and happenings that occurred throughout the year. There was a lot of laughing, but there were also some serious moments where we talked about difficult times we had endured.
At the end, there was a clear sense of pride and lightness in the air. Everyone felt good about the hard work they put in during the year, and how we'd flourished as a team and a company.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
The year-end review event is unique in nature, and has to be approached the right way to ensure that everyone gets the most out of it. If you proceed in setting up a session like this, keep the following points in mind. They’ll help to guarantee a positive result.
- Tell stories. People love to hear stories, especially if they have first-hand knowledge of the tale. Telling stories is a way to express the emotion of what happened in the past in a format to which we are all accustomed. And although many stories are humorous, don’t shy away from talking about struggles and failures. The tough times are just as important to discuss as the good times.
- Focus on the current year. Resist the temptation to talk too much about the future. It’s natural to be excited about what’s to come, but a year-end reflection session is more about taking the time to consider everything that was done in the current year.
- Concentrate on the feelings behind the facts. An end-of-year gathering is not about goals, objectives, or metrics. It’s not about celebrating the achievement of a revenue number, winning a big contract, or getting a feature to market. It’s about employees reflecting upon how they worked together to overcome an obstacle, how it felt to help a client to be more successful, how the team grew closer and stronger. There are lots of forums for showing charts and graphs about metrics and key performance indicators. This isn’t one of them.
GIVE IT A TRY
If you haven’t hosted a meeting like this before, give it a try — even if the new year has already started. There’s no rule that says a year-end review meeting has to happen prior to January 1. A year is a long time and it’s easy to forget how much got done. People enjoy taking the time to gather their thoughts about everything that happened.
Plus, it takes virtually no preparation to set up a meeting like this. Just get the event on the calendar and show up. You may be surprised at how eager people are to tell stories about their workmates and clients. It’s a great way to foster a sense of accomplishment and closure among your employees, and to get their minds prepared to take on future challenges.