Once upon a time, when I was a foolish and inexperienced manager, I thought that scheduling birthday celebrations for team members was a silly idea. Why should we stop work and celebrate birthdays like a bunch of toddlers, I thought? (I love my toddler, but he doesn’t work with me yet.) I mainly avoided team lunches and disdained birthday celebrations. Then, one day, after a long slog through difficult projects that had mixed results, I noticed on the calendar that one of our newest team members had a birthday coming up. What fun it would be to make a real party out of his birthday, I thought, and we really need a break right about now. The rest of us huddled together and planned a party based on his favorite foods and things we knew he loved to do outside of work. We rearranged the furniture in a conference room and plotted how to install decorations before whisking him into the room for his surprise. Our conversation was fun and wide-ranging and we completely forgot about work for awhile. We got ludicrous, too. As a boss, I believe I demonstrated how much I genuinely appreciated the team member as a person, not as a worker. And the party cost next to nothing.
From a management standpoint, the benefit of ritualized celebrations for workgroups is that titles temporarily dissolve, which in turn allows bonds to strengthen.