Office parties are organized with many motives in mind. Ostensible reasons are as respectable as team bonding, celebrating achievements or festivals. But if you lift the party hat, you’ll find the real objectives. These can range from wanting to impress the new boss to getting punch drunk at the company’s expense.
These parties offer many opportunities but are also minefields requiring skilful navigation. It is therefore important to study office parties with the same rigour devoted to business plans or budgets, and evolve appropriate strategies for leveraging them. Since business schools are yet to focus on this important subject, here is a simple reference guide to some important types of office parties.
‘Big boss from global headquarters’ party
This party is organized when the global CEO or similar top-hat from headquarters comes visiting. The sole purpose of the event is to demonstrate to him what a wonderful team your country head has built, which may then get the country head a promotion to headquarters. The global head may be garlanded or turbaned, which adds a silly Indian touch to the photographs.
Recommended action plan: To maximize your interests at this type of party, head straight to the global CEO and praise your country head handsomely, making sure you do this in his presence. Don’t skimp on words of appreciation, go ahead and mention what an extraordinary leader he is, how happy all of you are under his visionary command. Thereafter, retire smartly to the bar, don’t forget to ask the bartender for the special single malt or Chantilli, which is kept hidden for the global boss’ consumption.
‘Achieving the impossible’ party
This occasion celebrates some achievement or the other. The highlight will be several speeches of the “blood, toil, tears and sweat” variety, extolling the achievement and how impossible odds have been surmounted. In recent days, even PowerPoint presentations with charts are used, which you may rightly feel is somewhat incongruous at a party, until you understand that this is not really a party. It is a motivational gathering cleverly disguised as one.
Get the party started: Have fun in moderation because such parties are minefields and require careful navigation.
Recommended action plan: Arrive early and get drunk before the party starts. That will make it easier for you to cheer every dreary speech boisterously, which will be greatly appreciated by your boss. He is likely to commend you as an excellent team player (“Harish was the life of yesterday’s party, did you see the way he kept cheering everyone all the way?”). The rest of the time, you could ask the waiters to serve you grilled prawns or smoked salmon. These exotic foods are not generally served, but I have often obtained them just by insisting that I eat nothing else. As the 10th speech commences, it is safe to slip out with some friends and head to a nearby pub. Here, you can continue to party until they shut down.
‘Farewell to our colleague’ party
These get-togethers are mostly organized in dull conference rooms, with a slightly funereal air floating around. Be prepared for tears and nostalgia which transform the colleague who has resigned into a paragon of virtue and impossibly great merit. The departing colleague will then speak about how heart-wrenching it is for him to leave. On the refreshments front, there is little to look forward to—budgetary constraints ensure that samosas, puffs and cake are the measly fare.
Recommended action plan: Make a moving speech. Tell the gathering how much you enjoyed working with the person, how greatly you will miss him. Use powerful quotations from Shakespeare or Shakira (Google is all you need). Alternatively, narrate touching incidents. Such a speech will endear you to the gathering. The departing colleague may even embrace you in a moment of weakness, which may be either awesome or awful depending on age, sex and appeal. Don’t touch the food. It’s cheap, lousy and fattening.
‘Boss’ home’ party
When the boss calls his team home for a party, he is trying hard to prove that he is no work monster, indeed he has a human touch. Spouses and children are often invited, and in an effort to avoid shop talk, party games are thrown in.
Recommended action plan: Ensure that you don’t miss this party because bosses have memories which are longer than their cabins. Make pleasant conversation with the boss’ wife (or husband), an occasional good word from her (or him) may well have a positive impact on your career. Two spouse principles work well at such parties. First, ensure your spouse is kept on a tight rein throughout the party, and does not discuss any of your distressing home habits with your office colleagues, or God forbid, with your boss and his wife. Second, be chivalrous and offer to remain completely sober during the party, so that you can drive the family back safely. We know that such sobriety may not be your style at all, but it will help towards accomplishment of the first principle mentioned above.
‘The annual’ party
This normally happens only once a year unless your company is headed by a hard-core party addict, in which case you are in a rocking office, baby. This is also the most enjoyable of office parties—particularly, if there is no other agenda, such as celebration of achievements, global top- hats, etc.
Recommended action plan: Let down whatever hair you have, bitch all you wish, enjoy the music and relaxed conversation with your special group of friends, burn the dance floor or sing timeless Kishore Kumar numbers together and chase the dawn with your favourite drinks. Stay away from other alcohol-sodden temptations as much as you can, and also from office for the next couple of days. For the rest of the year, talk about both gorgeous and scandalous highlights of the bash. Enjoy.
Harish Bhat is chief operating officer—Watches, Titan Industries Ltd. He thinks the coolest office parties happen on the moonlit, surf-splattered beaches of Goa, Phuket and the Caribbean.
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