Pandemic Challenge 205 of 7,923: Recognizing Project Milestones
We continue discovering ways that the pandemic is upending customs, practices, and norms. Everyone is compensating as best they can, but some aspects of project life are particularly difficult with remote teams and social distancing. Celebrating milestone achievement is necessary and hard in our current circumstances.
In the age of COVID-19, we need to explore new ways to accomplish familiar objectives. One of the challenges that project managers I coach are running into in North America is how to celebrate project milestones in a remote work/social distancing environment.
It was relatively easy pre-pandemic—head to a bar and buy a couple of rounds of drinks, bring in a box of donuts, or purchase some silly T-shirts or other prizes and hand them out over pizza during the retrospective. Communal food and beverages with everyone in the same room is much harder now, but celebrating the small victories remains important for morale and team cohesion.
Frankly, I was stumped, but the nice thing about being a coach is that I can learn things from my peeps. Here are a few good ideas that have been shared:
Virtual Wine Tasting: Although there may be procedural complications (check with your HR), one project celebrated a significant milestone by sending a bottle of wine to their team members and having a virtual happy hour near the end of the workday. As a surprise treat, the winery owner logged in at the start of the meeting and told teams about the making of the wine. At first blush, this probably sounds expensive, but if your organization would pay for you to take your team to a nice celebratory dinner, the costs are probably comparable. As an added benefit, there were no concerns about drinking and driving because everyone was starting from their home.
Virtual Dinner: An alternative to meeting at a restaurant to celebrate involves giving the team DoorDash credits and having a virtual meal with the team at a predefined time to celebrate completing a milestone.
Celebratory T-Shirts: Many of us are saving money on dry cleaning and shoes while working from home, but I know my T-shirt collection is getting a real workout. Someone suggested creating a T-shirt to acknowledge successful project completion and mailing them to all of the team members. I know I still have T-shirts that I was given at the end of a project in 1983 and again in 1990. I’ll acknowledge they don’t fit so well these days, but like photographs of old friends, they have sentimental value. As an added bonus, most of the jokes/pithy sayings that would go with most projects scream “Dork!” if you wear them in public, but they could be amusing in the privacy of a Zoom call with the team.
We are a social species. Our rituals, however silly, are important to building and sustaining team dynamics as long as they are sincere. Particularly when working from home, milestones can sail by unnoticed if team leaders and project managers don’t make the effort to pause and thank people for showing up and playing hard. I’m not suggesting “participation trophies”—just that we find ways to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of teams. Team morale and team member retention are highly correlated. We all need to get more creative in these strange times.