We are big on celebrating. Anyone who knows my family, knows that we don’t let any significant event just pass us by without some form of celebration and acknowledgment. You might even say that celebrating well is part of our family culture. Celebrating is not limited to our family life, this can be seen throughout our organisation. The nature of our work means that every year, the months of January and February remove us from the normal routine of daily life into a very intense work period. We love this season every year but it requires long days and nights and a willingness to invite a bit of chaos into our family life. When this ‘mission is accomplished’ late in February we take a few days off to rest and celebrate. We celebrate at work because people have gone above and beyond, stretched themselves and their skill sets and we celebrate because people have been completely generous with their lives. We also celebrate at home because we want to acknowledge that our kids have sacrificed quality time with us, missed sports events and birthday parties and live out of a suitcase for six weeks because they too believe in the vision. I guess you could say, making hard choices for the sake of a greater vision is something we believe in, so we celebrate it.
I’ve heard it said that, “Culture is what we celebrate and what we tolerate.” To be honest, I don’t know where the quote originated but I can’t take the credit. What I do know through my experience of working with many different teams in shaping culture is that this statement is very true. You can write down whatever you hope your culture will be on paper but whatever you celebrate or tolerate will become your lived culture. Think about it, if gossip is tolerated in your setting (workplace, family, team, etc.) than everyone will know that it is an acceptable way of ‘doing things around here’ and it will be repeated. If it were not tolerated, however, and people were to be challenged about the way they were speaking, you would start to see a change in the culture. Celebrating can have the same effect. When people see that something is celebrated, they know that, ‘this is important or valuable around here.’ Whether it’s for a new event or initiative, taking a risk on a creative idea or noticing a team member who consistently lives in line with the desired values, celebrating these things helps people know that they are important and are a part of our desired culture. Most of the time these moments are markers of where a vision has come to fruition. If you want to have a snapshot into a group’s culture, look at what they tolerate and celebrate. While both are very important, this for us is a celebration week, so in this post I’m going to focus on that.
In a busy world, it can be way too easy to avoid celebration and just keep pushing towards the next goal. When we do this, we rob a team of their opportunity to acknowledge growth and moving closer to their vision, remembering their ‘why’ and experiencing the gratitude and life that comes from sharing success, whatever that may be. So this may sound good in theory but how do we shape culture through celebration? The more I work with teams in defining and shaping their culture, the more I see how relevant and important these principles can be in family life too. So, I want to offer four practical steps to help you use celebration as a way to start creating your desired culture.
- Have a Culture Conversation
There are many different definitions of culture but because I love things to be simple and transferrable, I think the best way to describe culture is, “The way we do things around here.” Some questions to help you think about your current culture are:
- What do you like about your current culture? What are the things that you would never want to lose from your culture? Are there things that you are proud to say ‘that’s us’ or ‘that’s the way we do things around here?’ This may be things like, I love how positively we speak, we build each other up, we do everything with excellence, we are authentic, we back each other up when things get hard, or we love to have fun.
- What don’t you like about your current culture? What potentially holds you back from achieving your vision? Where would you like to see change? This could look like a lack of trust between team members, complaining and negativity, a lack of accountability, a general mediocrity, or allowing busyness to take over and not making time to connect. It’s only when you become aware of what these things are for you, in any setting that allow you to begin to change it.
- What’s missing? What are some key behaviours or elements you would love to have as part of your culture? What would you love for people to experience when they walk into your office, event, church etc.? What are some new things you need to include to enable your vision to be achieved more effectively? This is where intentional celebration can be so helpful. When you start putting celebration around the areas you want to grow, just watch your culture change.
Hopefully this conversation will give you some great insight into your desired culture and can help you start to build a plan that takes you from where you are now to where you want to go, using celebration as a vehicle.
2. Define the ‘Win’
Before you can celebrate it, you have to know what a win or success looks like. For each group this will be different, so it’s important that you define it and ensure that everyone knows it. Maybe your setting requires creativity and a win for you is coming up with ‘outside of the box’ ideas, maybe its finding new clients or reaching new people. Perhaps it’s running an event that meets the need of your people or it could be a more unseen win like your team finally trusting each other enough to ask for help and share vulnerably. An example from our family is, ‘filling someone’s bucket,’ an expression for being kind to someone, making them feel special, helping or encouraging someone. At night over dinner we ask each other: how you have filled someone’s bucket? By celebrating this as a family, we are saying that this is a strong value, this is a win around here and we should be trying to repeat this, everyday. It helps that my kids are competitive and if someone has not got a story to share (and let me be REAL, this happens!) they are determined to come up with one the next day.
3. Celebrate in a way that is authentic to YOU
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate. Maybe as you’re reading this, you are thinking celebration means throwing a party. As much as I love a good party and would love to be the one who gives you an excuse to throw one, it is not the only way to celebrate. If your team is spread out across the country or globe, this may be as simple as a group email or iPhone video that takes a moment to recognize the hard work and heart that people have poured into a project. Maybe it’s a gift for someone who consistently ‘walks the walk’ and embodies the values of your business or drinks after work when a particular goal was smashed. In our organisation we heavily rely on the generosity of volunteers and whenever a new volunteer is accepted, we ring a bell and everyone cheers. It’s small, but it reminds us, whatever we are doing, what our work is actually about. It can take the mundane tasks and breathe a new life and purpose into them by helping us be reminded of the bigger vision. Or perhaps it is taking your family to San Churro’s for chocolate fondue to thank them for being amazing and supporting your work. I don’t know how you do celebration but it’s worth you knowing, or thinking about, so you don’t let these moments just pass you by. Each one, when acknowledged, have the power to shape your culture.
4. It’s never too late to celebrate!
There is no perfect process to do this, it doesn’t require any overthinking, it just requires you to pick something and get started! The notion of ‘celebrating a win’ may be foreign to your current culture and you could even feel a little uncomfortable introducing this concept. The truth is, any kind of culture change can be very challenging and take a while before it becomes normal or a habit, but when it’s a positive change, it is definitely worth it. Sharing success, working together, feeling appreciated and valued and giving our best to contribute to a vision, are all worthy of celebration. The more they are celebrated, the more they are repeated and before you know it, you are creating a culture that people are not only drawn to but that they can thrive in.
I’ve continously seen the power of celebration bring teams together, offer hope and motivation, pull people through challenging times and give people a strong sense of purpose. I hope these four steps can do the same for you and help you begin to build the culture you hope for. Now we would love to hear from you, how do you celebrate?