How We Create a Memorable End-of-Year Experience for our Small Work Team

It has become a tradition for the Grassroots IT team members and their partners to gather at the end of each year to celebrate their hard work and reflect on the year that has passed. In our first year of business, our ‘team event’ consisted of Ben and I having dinner with our solitary staff member, but as our team has grown and changed, our event ideas have needed to as well. While going out for dinner is great, we do that fairly regularly throughout the year so we like to create more of an ‘experience’ for our team to end the year on a memorable note.

This year, we invited our team members and their partners (18 people in total) into our home and organised a private chef through At Our Table to cook us dinner. It was a really beautiful night and the food was delicious!

In terms of preparation for the event, we put three trestle tables together to make one long banquet table and just had enough room to fit 18 comfortably in our open-plan lounge/dining room. We hired in the chairs, table cloths, napkins, crockery, cutlery and glassware from a local hire company for the evening. Our place settings looked a little like these Pinterest-inspired napkins with hand-written name labels, and I created the very simple table centrepieces with some jars we had at home and a selection of flowers from a local flower market. I ran out of time to print off the menus, but I had created them using Canva.

Our ‘Chef’s Table’ evening began at 6pm in our backyard with drinks, and some pre-made cocktails and canapés that Ben and I had whipped up and our waiter, Ana, served. Meanwhile, Chef and his assistant Shelly were in our kitchen busily preparing the entrée for our guests.

At 7.15pm, we invited everyone upstairs to be seated for dinner. Entrée was served in an alternate drop, and guests received either a lime crusted lamb rump, sweet potato puree, with garlic spinach and cabernet jus, or sugar cane king prawn rice paper rolls, with fresh coriander and chilli lime dipping sauce. We had a number of dietary requirements, including vegetarian, gluten, grain and dairy free, which Chef happily catered for.

For our main meal, we dined on roast pork belly with creamy mash, Asian salad, apple compote and honey soy glaze; or local King Snapper, with lemon, parsley and pecorino risotto, crisp prosciutto and pineapple salsa.

Dessert consisted of either a chocolate vanilla sable with Frangelico cream and raspberry, or a mini fresh fruit Pavlova, with passionfruit and chocolate filigree.

We kept all the drinks readily available in big ice buckets on the sideboard beside the dining table and our wonderful waiter, Ana, did a great job of keeping us all hydrated throughout the night. Chef and his assistants washed all the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen while we were all happily chatting and feasting on the delicious food, finishing up their official duties and leaving us about 9.30pm. But the festivities weren’t over yet!


Let the games begin

Each of our guests had been asked to bring a Secret Santa gift (to the value of about $10) to dinner. After all the eating had concluded, we launched into our Secret Santa gift game. Have you played it before? My family started playing it years ago on Christmas day for a bit of fun and it’s been good at giving some giggles at our end-of-year gatherings for the past few years too. Years ago, I used to buy all the gifts myself but as the team has grown, we now ask the team members to bring their own – I actually think this is better as everyone has more of a vested interest what they have purchased. Here’s the general rundown on the game plan:

      • All gifts (which are wrapped) are placed on display in the middle of the table.
      • One team member begins (we started with the youngest member, but maybe you could go in alphabetical order or something different) and picks a present from the table to open.
      • Once the first present is opened and everyone can see the item, the next person is allowed to either open a brand new present or take an already-opened present off a previous recipient.
      • If someone has their gift taken off them, they are allowed to open (or steal) another present.
      • Our rule is that no present is to be stolen more than once by the same person (however, there are no rules to say that person’s partner can’t steal it so that the desired present makes it home by the end of the night… just sayin’ ;), but you can make up your own rules.
      • The cycle continues until all presents are open.


This game kept us entertained for at least a good hour – I think it was definitely the most fun we’ve had in all the years we’ve been playing it!

Our end-of-year team gathering finished up around 11.30pm, with loads of fun had by all. I love watching how the event morphs and develops over time, depending on the number of team member and the different mix of personalities.


How we have celebrated over the years

Here is a list of other activities we’ve done over the years:

          • Cocktails, dinner and a magnificent view on the balcony at Topiaries of Beaumont, with private group transfer each way.
          • Lovely lunch on the river at Watt, New Farm. We’ve also hosted lunch at the Hundred Acre Bar at the St Lucia Golf Course.
          • A winery tour at Sirromet, followed by lunch in their signature restaurant, Lurleen’s.
          • Cocktails on the river at Byblos, followed by dinner at the now-closed Restaurant Manx, Portside.
          • The Story Bridge Climb at sunset, followed by drinks (and getting dressed up) in the room of a nearby hotel and then dinner at a local restaurant.
          • Cooking class and lunch at James Street Cooking School, followed by cocktails at Cru Bar, New Farm.


(Cocktails seem to feature fairly strongly on this list, don’t they??)

I also have a list of ideas for future team events, but I’m going to keep those under wraps for now ;)


How to create your own

Here are the steps you can follow to create a memorable experience for your team:


      • Well in advance, give your team members a short list of available dates and find a date when everyone can attend. Ask all your team members to lock it in with their partners too. As the year often gets a bit crazy with social events and busy-ness towards Christmas, we usually plan for a team gathering in November. Obviously the more time you have, the easier it will be to book your chosen activity/event on that date!
      • Brainstorm a list of ideas. Let your imagination run wild. What do you want the event to look like? Will it be during the day or at night? Fun and festive, or a more formal event? Will you have a theme?
      • Write a list of criteria. How many people will be attending? What’s your budget per person? What’s the age group of your team? Do you have any limitations based on who’s attending – e.g. If you really want to skydive, will everyone on your team feel comfortable doing this activity?
      • Focus on one particular idea and write a list of everything you need to organise. Book in any elements you need to outsource and pay deposits. Have you arranged a venue? Catering? Beverages? Decorations? Music? Equipment hire? Group transport?
      • Make invitations for your team members. Are the details of your event a surprise, or can they find out specifics in advance? While our team has the date locked in fairly early, we usually leave more specific details until the week or two before. That way, they get a chance to look forward to all the fun we have in store.
      • Finalise the finer details of your event. Do you want to give out any awards to your team members on the night? Do you have a speech to prepare? Do you need to advise a venue of any specific music or dietary requirements?
      • Attend the event and have lots of fun!


Picture of Ben Love

When not looking at ways to use technology to create a competitive advantage for his clients and build better businesses, Ben is a husband, busy father of boys, avid gardener, and keen runner and cyclist.

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