Rewards and Recognition Programs Don't Have to Break the Budget

Beach volleyball is a fun project celebration activityIt was one of my favorite engagements. It also may have been the only project in my experience where we didn’t use even half of the amount allocated for the rewards and recognition program and project team celebrations.

First let me explain. Most of the projects on which I worked throughout my career were fixed-price efforts that spanned anywhere from two to five years. They were demanding projects, while rewarding and enjoyable at the same time. On all of these projects we implemented rewards and recognition programs to help instill team spirit and loyalty.

Our projects were always comprised of our company’s IT staff and full-time client staff on loan from their “day jobs.” When it came to rewards and recognition and team celebrations, we were required to exercise caution, as our rules of engagement typically did not permit us to spend project monies for the direct benefit of the client staff on the project.

Now back to the engagement I referred to earlier. I was the Project Manager for a large mission-critical project for the state government of Hawaii. Like most of our engagements, we budgeted for a generous team recognition program. However, the state project team members were not permitted to participate in that program.

We understood the procurement rules and why they were in place for any such state project. However, it didn’t seem right that our team could celebrate major project milestones, but our valued state team members could not participate. They worked as hard as we did, in some cases harder as they still had to check in on their day jobs.

However, we soon solved the challenge. It didn’t take long before the spirit of “ohana” took over. The Hawaiian culture is a welcoming culture, and the spirit of ohana extends to family and friends alike. In this case, we were teammates bound together on a project to develop and implement a major system for the benefit of residents of the State. We were ohana.

With miles of beaches and a climate suited for outdoor activities, we scrapped most of our traditional team recognition program. For any given major accomplishment, our entire project team – our staff and State staff alike – would be found at one of the parks or beaches having a huge “family” picnic. Our celebrations included spouses, children, and significant others. Boogie boards, hibachi grills, Frisbees and volleyballs were always in adequate supply.

Each team member contributed to the potluck meals. No need to tap the project budget here. We consumed copious amounts of huli huli chicken, rice, rice noodles, lomi-lomi salmon, spam musubi, fresh poki, (and yes, even poi!), malasadas from Leonard’s, and a myriad of other local delicacies.

While my IT team loved our internal project-sponsored restaurant outings, they much preferred these casual celebrations with their client peers and families. It didn’t take long for our celebrations to expand beyond team accomplishments. Soon we were gathering for any reason – birthdays, work anniversaries, holidays.

The Resource Management Plan is the place to start planning team development and recognition activities, and budgeting for them. However, be prepared to be creative in how team celebrations are implemented for the enjoyment, camaraderie and benefit of all project team members.


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