You’re no Scrooge. You know your team needs to deck the halls right now – to have some fun and celebrate together. But what if it’s just not in the budget – the leaner, meaner one that’s keeping your company alive during tough times? With all the cut-backs most companies have had to make this year, many leaders are at a loss for how to show appreciation for their teams this holiday season. In fact, only 62 percent of companies are planning holiday parties, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultancy. That`s down from 77 percent last year and 90 percent in 2007.

But I’m inspired by the fact that so many leaders are asking how to make merry with their teams this holiday season – despite the recession! We all want to give something and perhaps boost morale at the same time. The key: Getting innovative. How cool is that?!

Who better to ask than your innovative team? The mere fact that you, as a leader, would say, “Hey, I’d really like to do something fun to celebrate the holidays and I need your help,” speaks volumes. You’ll not only get great, cost-effective ideas but you’ll also send the message, “I care about you and want to show my appreciation for your hard work this year. And I think you’re brilliant enough to come up with some solutions!” And if you get excited (however you show excitement is perfect) and have fun, they’ll get excited too.

They may not have suggestions on the spot, so consider holding a contest and rewarding the team member with the best idea with something simple like a couple movie tickets. Or if the budget is truly that tight, a valuable parking spot for the week, a shout-out via internal communications or lunch with the CEO make great incentives. Of course, the award needs to be appealing to your group. Just have fun and get creative.

Here are three of the best budget-friendly ideas I’ve heard for spreading good cheer in your office during this festive season:

Host a potluck in the office. Or organize a cooking contest, where the culinary geniuses in the office get to show off their best recipes, and everyone gets to eat the entries. Consider forming a committee to decide on games and other free entertainment the group would enjoy.

Give together. Whether it’s volunteering in a soup kitchen, adopting a needy family in your community that can’t holiday afford gifts or sponsoring a Congolese woman who needs a small business loan to support her family, making a difference as a team can do more for group bonding than any open bar.

Take a field trip. Plan a simple and reasonably priced group outing – like lunch, a movie, bowling, or just coffee and camaraderie (bonus for doing it during work hours!)

I look forward to hearing all about how your team decides to celebrate – and how it turns out. Happy Holidays!!!


Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers