OPINION: Tis the season and the chance to build morale

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

What would get me to dress as a Teletubby, serve food in a Dr Seuss hat, sing karaoke or write Pam Ayres-style ditties? No, not my medication playing tricks, or an excess of alcohol, but that inescapable fact of life - the office Christmas party. It's that time of year again and, love it or loathe it, the annual ritual can be fun and useful. Let me give you some examples.

One of my best National Autistic Society memories was of how the Christmas party became the most eagerly-awaited event of the year after our IT manager produced a spoof magazine. He used it to report irreverently on annual highlights and to award the 'alternative Oscars' (eg the 'Peter Cook Sound-alike Award'). Both, in a wickedly apposite way, helped the informal infrastructure of the organisation to gel, and illustrated a new kind of leadership.

At Guide Dogs, my first experience of the Christmas Party was a formal lunch in the dining room, seated by department. The next Christmas, I decided that the party could play a significant role in moving forward culture change. We planned the event to combine both traditional elements and more informal approaches, such as managers donning aprons and serving the food. Adding competitions, awards and a disco combined to ensure that a critical mass of staff ventured forth and had a ball.

It all helps to demonstrate that informal relationships are as important as formal ones, and that humour is a great connecting force.

People were pleasantly surprised. The next year staff throughout the organisation volunteered for the planning group. Fancy dress and karaoke were their choices - great for participation. Other years threw up a host of ingenious team efforts, including a special video version of Bob Dylan's The Times They are A-Changing, featuring various managers, staff and even guide dogs, lip-synching the messages of change. Copies were then sold as a fundraising initiative. And I fell into an annual tradition of summing up the year, Pam Ayres-style.

This may all sound a bit naff, but the Christmas party can encourage new ways of working together, reinforce common values and provide opportunities to do things differently and with a sense of humour. So, in the immortal words of Wayne and Garth, "Party on, dudes!"

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