Each organization has its own unique thumbprint and it’s important that your strategies and activities reflect that.

Employee Engagement Activities: Bucks And Floating Boats Are Better Than Ping Pong Tables


When leadership recognizes and invests in their employees, the payback is tremendous. Employees are the keepers of your brand and your best(or worst)advocates. That means as leadership, it’s critical to continually implement employee engagement activities that foster your teams. When you have a strategy that includes continual investment in your employees you’ll see results in a myriad of areas of your business including:

  • Profitability
  • Productivity
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Innovation
  • Turn Over
  • Well Being

After visiting and working long term with many clients across a range of categories, I’ve come to truly understand why the ping pong table in the conference room and happy hour on Fridays are not exactly the employee engagement strategies you might think they are. Yes they are fun, but they don’t pass the “engagement to impact” test. The “engagement to impact” test is something I created to ensure that all our activities, especially the larger ones pay off for both my employees and my business. I would encourage you to use this checklist when thinking about your next employee engagement activity.


✔ make employees feel heard

✔ employees feel valued

✔ help employees understand and value each other

✔ exciting for employees to participate in

✔ help employees grow and improve


This checklist helps us use our time, money and energy in a way that contributes directly to their development and growth and to the cohesiveness of the organization. It may feel like a tough checklist but when you truly understand the role of employee engagement, this list becomes a necessity.

Here are a few examples from clients that I hope spark some ideas for you. As you read these examples I want you to consider what employee engagement activities you could implement that fit your culture and your business goals. Each organization has its own unique thumbprint and it’s important that your strategies and activities reflect that.

Jimmy Bucks

As a large catering organization with people constantly in the field and not in the office together, the President saw a need to create a program that recognizes exceptional work. But instead of the lame “employee of the month” award, they put together a peer nominated program that rewards the winner and the people nominating. Every few months they get together in the office and the winner gets to share their story and spin the prize wheel.

Let me break down why this is such a great employee engagement activity that has been woven into their daily work. First it’s a peer nomination program, which means that anyone at any level of the organization can nominate someone. The onus isn’t on leadership which often doesn’t even see what’s happening in the field. Second, the people who nominate are rewarded for their actions. This fosters a culture where people are actively paying attention to their peers. And. because everyone is incentivized to do so, it keeps it from being the same people doing the nominating every month. Finally, it’s ongoing, so recognition for great work has become part of their culture.

How can you create a recognition program that is inclusive and ongoing?

Kombucha Tasting

Here’s the real truth about drinks on Friday. While it sounds like a great idea, most people are thinking “I’d really like to go home to be with  my family” or “I’ve had a long week with these people and would like to hang with my friends.” One of our clients in the technology space realized this pretty quickly and switched beer on Friday to an Open Kombucha Bar that is always available. After poling their teams they realized that many of them were working on their health. So instead of beer Fridays, they do Kombucha tasting Wednesday at lunch.

Breaking this activity down, it showed their people that they support their wellness efforts and respected their weekends too. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be Kombucha. The point here is to find something that supports your employees in the things they care about.

What can you do to support the personal and professional needs of your employees?

Floating Cardboard Boats

In my opinion, the best employee engagement activities include a team challenge that helps people solve problems, bond and discover their potential in a fun way. I have a colleague that works with some of the top Fortune 500 companies. He shared with me an exercise he does that I think covers all of the above. The exercise is simple. Working in teams, turn the cardboard, along with other materials given to you, into a boat that can be paddled across a small pond without sinking. As you can imagine some boats float, some sink, and everyone has a great time while learning about themselves.

I love this exercise and many I’ve done like it for several reasons. It mimics the real world in many ways - limited time, limited resources, don’t always get to pick your team. The exercise is so crazy, yet so fun, that people working together tend to have a bonding experience. There is nothing like sinking in the middle of a pond together or working hard to paddle fast across the water. Whether it’s building a structure in the lobby, building a bike or a boat, activities that allow for a bonding experience and allow people to develop new problem solving skills is a win. Further, an exercise that allows people to tap their innovative minds to solve problems is always well received. It feels good to innovate.

What innovative exercises can you do with your teams?

Employee engagement activities are a great way to show your employees you care. Those activities can be small, big, on-going and point-in-time. I would suggest a combination of all sizes and types. The key is making sure they fit your business and your culture.