Does secret Santa give insight into how well your team actually works together?

One year I joined a new business and had to get involved in secret Santa within one month of joining, in a team of 30+ people. That’s not very long to get to know the person you’ve been allocated, understand a bit about them, and then find them a suitable gift within the £10 budget.

That said, I had a conversation with the ‘chosen one’ and discovered we had some things in common and new immediately that I could offer the gift of signed memorabilia from his favourite sports team as they were also my favourite sports team and I had some items I could do without.

Needless to say the gift went down a storm and was the talk of the office.

It was free, it was straightforward, but it was personal. And that’s where the state of secret Santa can shed some light on how well our team is integrated.

Amongst the gifts given that year were a fair number of desk based games (ten pin bowling, darts, darts within drinking consequences), a fair few bottles of booze and some chocolates. I’m not sure there were very many individually selected presents. Presents where the giver has thought about the receiver and found something that is related to something they like, something that they do, something about them. A tiny pot owl for the lover of owl merchandise, a personalised whiteboard pen for the person who can always be found drawing up new processes on whiteboards around the office, or even a Steam gift card for the avid gamer.

In other roles I’ve had Dad joke books due to my stream of terrible puns throughout the day, personalised mugs, key rings that let me put in pictures of my kids, all from people who have taken the time to get to know me, understand me, and consider my life and what makes me happy. The people who gave these gifts were in the best and most successful teams I’ve worked with.

In environments where we’re happy with superficial relationships then generic secret Santa gifts might suffice, but does this approach to relationships manifest itself in the work we do at all other times of the year?

Will we take those extra steps to make life easier for our colleagues if we haven’t really connected with them? Will we look out for our colleagues when we know they’re under pressure, or will we hide behind our computer screen and leave the office at 530 not giving them a second thought?

I’d argue that if you’re happy giving a generic gift then you’re more likely to not be fully integrated with your team, and therefore not doing the best for your business.

As teams we need to find ways to connect more, on a personal level, because this really translates into a successful workplace. People who can connect in this way are more open to communicate about both good and bad things at work, giving praise when it’s warranted, but also pointing out areas for improvement when needs be. Both push the team (and by definition the business) forward.

So think what you got given in this year’s secret Santa. Was it a thoughtful gift from a trusted colleague, or a present from someone you work with?

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Helping people kick start their product management career at * Product person at Watchfinder

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