The New Year is just an arbitrary date on the calendar, but it brings with it a spirit of change, renewed energy, and a commitment to make this year better than the last. Herein lies an opportunity for you as a manager to implement an initiative to make a more positive and productive workplace for your team.

One of my favorite business-related quotes, “It is hard to warm up to cold efficiency,” comes from Al Golin, a noted expert on the role of trust in the modern corporation. Cold efficiency is detrimental to your organization's long-term (and sometimes even short-term) goals and can result in a cold and impersonal work environment. Here are 12 low-cost activities for 2007—one for each month—that you can use to build a more personal, enjoyable, and productive workplace.

January—Free Food


Most people enjoy an occasional morning break with a spread of doughnuts, muffins, or bagels with coffee and juice. For less than $30, you can provide a continental breakfast for a small-to-midsized team. Give your team members a midmorning break from their work and a chance to get together informally for a few minutes. Do this once a week, and for only $1500 a year, you'll see a return in goodwill and bonding.

February—Transparency


Few things will destroy a team's trust like a lack of transparency in the workplace. Opacity in the workplace can also lead to unhealthy rumors and innuendo. In February, have a talk with members of your team about areas of the company they believe are overly opaque. You might find people asking for information about compensation structures, for example, or wanting to know exactly what they can do to earn a promotion. Team members might even ask you to clarify your goals as a manager. Together, determine how some, if not all, of these areas can be made more transparent. Be sure to follow up with your team on each idea that's suggested.

March—Brown Bag Lunch


To front-line employees, senior management can all too often become dehumanized and can more closely resemble Dilbert's pointy-haired boss or Catbert than real people. Start a quarterly event in which senior employees—both executive management and senior individual contributors—share stories about their careers, perspectives on the business, and other words of wisdom over lunch with your team. The best executives will welcome your initiative and jump at the chance to have an informal conversation with some of the troops.

April—Low Hanging Fruit


Work with your team to come up with some simple, low- to no-cost benefits that would make the workplace more enjoyable. These benefits might be anything from schedule changes to basic culture adjustments. For example, your team might ask whether Friday could be reserved as a no-meeting day or request that meetings not be held before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. so that team members can be more flexible with respect to school schedules. Think of things that can be implemented easily without requiring outside permission or resources, and implement as many as you can. Small changes such as these convey to team members how much you value them and show the importance you place on their well-being and satisfaction with work.

May—Encourage Positive Interactions


It might sound corny—right out of Leave It to Beaver—but encouraging positive interactions within your team is essential when you're trying to create a warm work environment. As the manager, you need to set the tone and be the example. Almost all successful managers who are well-liked praise their employees generously and publicly and give criticism privately. Eliminate “no, but” conversations that unconstructively criticize ideas or respond to them negatively. In their place, create “yes, and” conversations in which employees build on one another's ideas and work. When someone on your team brings up an idea, thank him or her for the idea and open a discussion with your team about how the goal could be accomplished using that idea or some other mechanism.

June—Get Outside


We spend an unnatural amount of time indoors. In the first month of summer, move your team outside as often as you can. Instead of sitting in a boring office, have walking meetings with members of your team, or move a staff meeting outside, if you have a place for everyone to sit. (You might want to make this an October or November activity if you're in Phoenix or someplace similar where June temperatures can be 108 degrees.)

July—Create Opportunities for Long Weekends


July is the heart of summer: The days are long and warm, and most kids are out of school. Everyone appreciates an occasional long weekend, especially at this time of the year. See how creative you can be with your team's schedule to give your employees opportunities for long weekends. For example, your team might like to work an hour or two longer Monday through Thursday in return for leaving early on Friday or taking the day off, or the team might like to start early and leave early on certain days. If you can swing it, try to give an occasional complimentary day off; this is a great and welcome reward for completing a particularly difficult project.

August—Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously


The longest stretch of the year without a three-day holiday weekend is from the Fourth of July to Labor Day. In August, add a goal to your team's mission: Challenge team members to not take themselves too seriously. Ask your team what about the company is too serious, such as corporate policies that impose arbitrary restrictions that don't affect business. For example, at one company that I recently visited, management tried to “preserve a professional-looking work environment” by prohibiting employees from hanging anything, whether work related or personal, on the walls of their cubicles. The message being conveyed was that the building was more important than the people who worked in it. To loosen things up, you might implement, say, a contest to see who can create the best parody of the company slogan. Whatever you do, just make it fun.

September— Bring Your Family to Work Day


Many workplaces observe Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on the fourth Thursday in April. Expand on the idea in the fall with an afternoon or evening event. Have your team members invite their families to the office for food, drinks, and games. Like many of the other ideas here, this event not only gives team members an opportunity to have fun and get to know one other better, but extends the bonding and sense of community to their families.

October— Harvest Time


November and December are big—and often stressful—months for family gatherings. Instead of—or in addition to—throwing a holiday party, which often adds to holiday-season pressures, host a harvest party for your team members and their families. Find an apple orchard or pumpkin farm where you can have a nice, low-key fall picnic or hold a Halloween event complete with bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving, and prizes for costumed kids.

November—Giving Thanks


Work with your team to find an activity in which every member can participate to give something back to the community. A volunteer project fits in with the spirit of the season, raises your company's profile in the community, and helps your team members feel better about the community in which they live. Challenge your company to match your team's efforts by letting other employees volunteer some time during a work day or making a contribution to the charity your team supports. For some ideas on what your team can do for the community, see “4 IT Resolutions for the New Year,” January 2006, InstantDoc ID 48398.

December—Make 2008 Better Than 2007


In December, talk to your team about how it can make 2008 better than 2007, how it can become more productive, and what can be done to make coming to work everyday more enjoyable for everyone. Find out what activities worked well in 2007 and which ones didn't. Then, taking that feedback into consideration, start planning your 2008 activities.

Work and Play


Of course, fiscal responsibility and accomplishing objectives are important for all companies, but the resulting push for efficiency can make a company's best assets—its employees—unhappy. Building a warmer, friendlier work environment will pay off in employees who enjoy coming to work and who are more willing to pitch in to accomplish a goal or meet a deadline. As a manager, you'll find that recruiting high-performing employees is a lot easier if you've established a reputation for being a great person to work for. Giving your team a reason to look forward to coming to work is a worthwhile management objective, and who knows—you might even find yourself enjoying work more!