DIY.Company.Game.Night.jpgDIY Company Game Night

You’ve been tasked with planning a team building event or activity for a corporate party. Great! That means somebody – possibly you – realizes how critically important it is to recognize and reward staff and boost morale in the workplace.  

Unfortunately, it also means you must now add “plan company party” to your to-do list, which is no doubt already overflowing!

The first thing most people tasked with planning a game night for the office do is to take a step back and ask several key questions:

  • What is my budget for this event?
  • How many people will be there?
  • Will it be held onsite or offsite?
  • What kind of experience do we want?

Because we live in the reality-based world, the first question, about budget, tends to hold significant sway over the others. Despite your best intentions by holding this event in the first place, if you’ve got limited funds at your disposal it might force you to make some tough decisions, such as:

  • Who do we invite, versus not invite?
  • Can we even afford to do this in an outside venue?
  • What type of food, beverage or entertainment can we have?

In my experience, what I’ve seen is that oftentimes these types of employee reward events and office party ideas are limited in size, scope and imagination due to incredibly tight budgets. When cash-strapped clients call me up to ask for a quote on the company trivia parties I produce, the conversation usually goes something along the lines of this:

“Can you give me a quote?”

“Sure, can you tell me your budget?”

“I don’t have a budget yet – can you give me a rough estimate?”

“Okay, it’ll be X-Y dollars.”

“Yikes! That’s WAY out of my budget!”

You get the picture. As oftentimes as not, the planner will either then shop around for the absolute cheapest type of corporate event entertainment and team building activities he/she can find or, after realizing just how must stuff actually costs, cancel the event altogether.

There is a third solution, however, which can and should be explored here: do it yourself!

Planning a DIY office party game night isn’t nearly as daunting as you might think. Before doing this professionally, I was just an average guy living and working in New York City, who every now and then would throw parties at his apartment (not huge rages, mind you – just fun gatherings). I figured out pretty quickly you don’t have to be Martha Stewart in order to execute a fun fete, you just need to know what steps to take – and then, do it!

Follow this useful guide to producing your own stress-free do-it-yourself company party:

1. Get 100% Clarity on Your Budget

You’ve priced out corporate entertainment vendors and determined they’re too expensive. Now, however, you’re still left with a dilemma: how much DO you have to spend? You need to keep the amount within reason, yet on the other hand you don’t want to skimp out and do the bare minimum, lest you run the risk of making the event look cheap. This can actually produce the opposite effect you are seeking, and hurt morale among your workers (as this case study illustrates). 

The best way to plan DIY entertainment for the office is to know EXACTLY how much you have at your disposal, and go from there. Once you know you have X dollars to spend, you can then figure out a per-person rate, and get a clearer sense of what is and is not within the realm of possibility.

2. Set Your Priorities

With a clear budget laid out, you can now ask yourself: what do I want this function to look like? How important is it that everybody be there, versus a select number of attendees? Can or should we invite spouses and significant others, or just keep it to those who work together day in, day out? Should we get outside of the office and go somewhere? What kind of food and drinks should we serve? Will there be decorations, music, or structured entertainment, and if so what?

3. Poll Your Audience

So many people who plan company game nights do so in a vacuum. Either individually or as members of a tiny committee, they unilaterally decide what will be done and how. While this can make sense from the perspective of the planner(s), it doesn’t always produce the results intended for one simple reason: they don’t do what the group actually would have wanted. You could have planned the perfect trivia game show for the office (and trust me, nothing would make me happier), however if they would have rather done a karaoke night that’s a major lost opportunity right there.

The solution? Poll your audience in advance!

Ask them: what kind of activity would you like to do during the event? Be honest about your budget, and let them know you need to keep it within a certain amount – but that you value their input, and want to do whatever will be the most enjoyable and meaningful activity for them. Not only will this give you insight into what they do and do not like, but it will give your colleagues a sense of ownership and buy-in, and with it the feeling that their thoughts are respected, their opinions valued.

4. Be Imaginative in Your Use of Space

Let’s be honest, if you’re planning a DIY party, your budget is likely so slim you can’t hold it in an offsite venue, but rather are doing it right in your workspace. I know that this is a less-than-ideal situation for many, however as I’ve argued previously, holding an event onsite is actually a great option, especially when the alternative is to not hold the function at all.

The key here is to make the space seem as fresh and fun as possible. It’s a weird cognitive shift to have to be in the space you go every day for work, and to make it “fun.” No matter how many decorations you put up, I assure you people are still very much aware that they’re standing under the florescent lights of the conference room during what’s supposed to be a party.

My solution? Be imaginative with the space!

The most limiting factor of course is capacity; you may only realistically have one space which can fit everybody you’re inviting. But maybe you don’t? Maybe your office has access to other areas of the building where people don’t normally go, such as the courtyard or the roof? Just being in a new place can help people to mentally unwind, and not feel like they’re “at work.”

If you truly are limited to that one auditorium, cafeteria, “town hall” area or multipurpose room, take some time to think: what can I do to make this special? Does the office game night activity I’ve selected require any special kind of space setup or equipment? How can I reconfigure the furniture, lighting or other physical aspects of the room to make it seem something other than what it normally is? Even just a small change such as temporarily removing the large conference table which normally dominates a room can produce enough of a “wow” factor for guests arriving to the space, to get them into the mindset that this is something different from the day-to-day.

5. Recruit Help

I’ll say this: after having spent so many years planning and producing corporate entertainment events, you can’t do it alone. You CAN’T. You’ve got SO much else on your plate already, and that work isn’t going to do itself. Throw in running the office party to boot, and it’s a surefire recipe for feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

So…ask for help!

Don’t be shy about reaching out to colleagues at all levels to assist. Does that mean trying to recruit to CEO to inflate balloons? Maybe not – but you CAN ask for ideas, suggestions, and recommendations from just about anybody. Doing so will help you obtain that all-important buy-in I talked about above, and make everybody feel just a little bit more invested in the event as a whole. But it will also help take the burden off of you.

And so, ask! See who might be willing to pitch in, be it finding a DIY activity, game show, trivia night, karaoke or what have you. I’ll bet there’s at least one person who could help you out on “game day” (the actual day of the event) when you’ll be the most stressed out, and in need of somebody you can lean on to assist you. Identify this person or persons in advance, and let them know they might expect to hear from you – under the assurance that it’s all for a good cause, of course, and will help to make for an extremely fun event for everybody.

6. Allow More Setup Time Than You Think You’ll Need

When I was working at the 92nd Street Y in New York City as an event programmer, I was responsible for personally programming and producing over 5,000 annual events. These ranged from personal growth and development classes, to language classes, to singles events, to humanities lectures, to hobbies and game classes, to cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and so much more. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to have 8-10 programs of varying types and sizes happening all at once, during the same two-hour window, at different places throughout the eleven-story building. You want to talk about stress? We’re talking as many as 500 people at a time who are relying on me to make sure everything is ready to go, on time as scheduled.

Trust me, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

Each event needed to be set up with the right number and type of chairs, tables and other furniture, in the proper configuration. I had to physically confirm that the porters had set up all five language classes on the 6th floor, at the same time that the singles event on the roof was ready to go with wine & cheese while the mah jongg cases were delivered to the classroom in the basement. I had to know that two of the three elevators were out, and that the testy Shakespeare instructor would go absolutely bonkers if God forbid his PowerPoint screen was out of focus again.

It was a grind, but I always had one thing on my side: time.

When setting up events, be it a do-it-yourself trivia party at the office or a Chardonnay tasting at the Y, time is your friend. I’ve been in the events world for a LONG time, and I can tell you flat out, nothing goes according to plan. Fires pop up, disasters occur, the unknown happens; as the organizer, it’s on you to make do with what you’ve got, and to deliver the experience regardless. What’s the best way to do that?

Ensure you’ve got enough time!

However much time you think you’ll need to prep, give yourself more. It’s as simple as that. You can always recruit more people to help, always order more food, always spend more money if you have to; but the one thing you CAN’T manufacture upon demand is time.

And so, my advice here is to plan accordingly. Whatever you can get done well in advance, do it. For my TrivWorks DIY offering, for example – a downloadable trivia party – get everything ready and printed out well before the event, even the day before. It’s one less thing that you’ll have to worry about the day of, and I PROMISE you something else unexpected will come up that you’ll need to devote your time to.

Set aside a significant amount of room setup time as well. You may enter the space, only to find that:

  • It’s a complete mess from the previous event
  • The PowerPoint, microphones or other A/V equipment isn’t working properly
  • The space has been double-booked, and you need to make a last-minute venue switch
  • There’s not enough chairs or tables
  • Anything and everything else you can possibly imagine could go wrong, has!

Again: time is your friend. Whether it’s an informal gathering for ten colleagues, or you’re setting up for the office holiday party, I can guarantee your stress level will be reduced tenfold by following this one piece of advice: give yourself time.

For further reading on planning DIY game nights, visit www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/20-insanely-simple-party-games-to-entertain-your-whole-famil?utm_term=.lcKNokrYn#.qiPqkvmJK