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Take This Simple $500 Action Step to Strengthen Culture at Your Small Business If you're struggling to build worker motivation or a general sense of company mission, look no further than this group activity.

By John Boitnott Edited by Ryan Droste

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ensuring that your employees stay motivated and satisfied at your company can be daunting, but it's vital. Motivated workers bring benefits that go beyond simple productivity.

Competition can be a healthy motivator. It doesn't have to be cutthroat, either. As a business leader, you should encourage friendly competition that shows team members you not only want to maintain a fun, positive culture but also listen to their ideas.

The following is an example of that kind of competition, and how any business can implement it.

The logistics of your competition

The activity: A pitch competition in which employees propose an office expenditure that the entire company can use which costs $500 or less (either for a single expenditure or allocated over several expenditures). The winning team spends the money on their proposed idea. Examples could be a video game console for the lounge, a ping pong table, catered meals, etc.

An important thing to remember here is that every office is different. The rules for what the winner can or cannot spend the prize money on should be made clear from the get-go.

Related: How to Support Introverted Remote Workers

The contest

Teams of two (or more) employees present pitch ideas to a panel of judges who are made up of managers from different departments. Each team presents for a set time limit and the winner will be determined by both management and employee votes (teams cannot vote for themselves).

The time frame

Careful thought should be put into the time frame for several reasons. These reasons include current workload, employee availability, etc. However, announce the contest so there's enough time for teams to complete their pitches before presentation day.

The competition should be announced a week or two out from the actual pitching to build excitement and anticipation. Team members also need time to form their groups and create pitches.

Related: If Running Your Business Feels Hard, You're Doing it Right. Here's Why

Benefits for your company

You may be thinking, "If I'm taking my employees away from their regular assignments, how does this benefit the company?" The answer may lie in the attributes for which you hired them in the first place.

Ideas. A pitch-off competition is powered by great ideas. And a contest like this one is a perfect incubator for them.

Teamwork. The teamwork component can re-ignite the performance of existing teams or mix things up by giving people a chance to work with someone new. The benefits of teamwork are numerous:

  • It fosters creativity.
  • Magnifies complementary strengths.
  • Builds trust.
  • Encourages healthy risk-taking.
  • Promotes a greater sense of ownership.

Encourage employees to show off team spirit through things like team names, outfits, logos, etc.

Culture. The positive energy surrounding competition like this does more than just break the monotony of work — it benefits company culture as long as positivity is emphasized. By offering to pay for a prize chosen by the winner that benefits the group as a whole, contestants can give their all knowing that, win or lose, something positive is gained by participating.

You can encourage participation knowing that everyone is contributing something that could benefit the organization. Moreover, teams that didn't win may still have ideas worthy of implementation at a future date.

Related: How to Build Your Business Strategy in the Face of Uncertainty

Pitch day

You announced the contest, teams worked feverishly on pitches, and now the day has arrived. Pitch Day is the culmination of everyone's hard work and should be treated with the appreciation it's due.

Start with a celebration. After some food and social time, a brief speech from organizers thanking all of the teams for their participation can set an enthusiastic tone.

The pitch-off. Gather at a venue where everyone can watch the pitches. A large conference room could fit the bill, or if you don't have that, clear a section of open office space so an audience can see and hear the pitches comfortably. Here are some key materials you may want to provide:

  • Projectors
  • Laptops
  • Screens/Monitors
  • Whiteboards
  • Markers

You want teams to be able to focus on their content, not on incidentals. Have both judges and the audience ask questions after each pitch.

Judging. Judging should take place when all teams are done pitching. Both judges and the audience can cast votes via secret ballot.

Results. Employees value recognition from their managers, but recognition from peers can be just as impactful. Let both manager and peer input determine the winner.

Once results are tabulated, announce the winner. Consider making it even more festive by announcing the results at a post-event happy hour. You'll likely be selecting the best from a field of many good ideas, so let the atmosphere have a "winner-with-no-losers" vibe. It will give the winners the credit they deserve while not denigrating the efforts of those who pitched good ideas but didn't take the trophy.

The award can be the monetary prize itself as well as a plaque or trophy that could be up for grabs at next year's pitch-off.

Related: What are Pulse Surveys, and How They Can Help Your Company?

When the dust settles

Everyone goes home after a fun-filled day of creativity, and you can rest knowing your team will come in the next day with renewed buy-in for the company's culture and mission.

The competition probably helped everyone get to know each other a little better or taught people something about their coworkers that they didn't expect. What's more, you may have been pleasantly surprised by a presentation from someone you didn't expect. Not bad for $500 that would have gone toward helping the company anyway.

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John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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