Great Gift Ideas Everyone on your Team Will Appreciate Now, and Later

For many of us, the month of December evokes the spirit of giving more than any other time of the year. Not to say we’re not generous of spirit all year round, but it’s typically during the holiday season that we are most likely to affirm appreciation for team members. Finding the right gifts for family and friends may be a lot easier than finding that perfect present for your team members (except for those of us with teenage girls!), especially when they work from a distance.

In this edition of Communiqué, I have asked two highly-successful virtual team leaders what gifts they like to give during this time of the year, and perhaps beyond. Here are replies from Karen Eber, Business Learning Leader of General Electric Energy Management, and Dave Chamak, Manager of IBM’s Social Insights team.

Karen’s gift ideas:

  • Taking the time to write a personal note on cards can have a big impact. I use cards as an opportunity to share a story with each team member about something positive I’ve observed in the past year, and my wish for them in the next year.  This takes time, and it is worth every minute. When I have not had time to put a card in the mail, a personal email can also work. It is always a good idea to express thanks for the individual, and to do so in a specific way. My pet peeve is the generic “Thanks for all you do.”
  • When team members can come together in the same place at the same time, it is fun to do a service project to give back. Whether working in a soup kitchen, gathering toys for young children, or volunteering at a hospital, those few hours will help the team bond, celebrate holidays and give back.
  • During one virtual team meeting, participants saw two pictures of holiday tables, one was formally set and one was set casually with home-made crafts.  The leader asked each person on the team to share how they celebrated the holidays in their family. Were they formal or informal? Simple or elaborate? Traditional or more contemporary? This led to funny story-sharing and bonding.
  • It can be expensive to give gifts to many team members; however, there are some wonderful ideas for gestures. Make a small donation in someone’s name to Kiva or another charity.  Someone I know mails a postcard each year letting me know that a $5 donation was made in my name to a charity, which I really appreciate. (Kiva is a charity that makes small loans, and recipients pay them back. It’s so rewarding to see the progress of the person paying back this small loan throughout the year.)
  • I’ve given and received books as a holiday gesture. Since I am a reader, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and the exposure it gives me to books I may never otherwise have heard about. This year, I am sending out sky lanterns to a few people (Amazon is amazing!). These are environmentally sound paper lanterns that you light and then release to float into the air.  I will send a personal note having them release their wish. This feels like a good year to release as many good wishes as we can into the world.
  • Whatever gifts you choose, make sure they are relevant to all.  One year, our virtual team came together for an in-person meeting near the holidays.  The leader thoughtfully gave each of us a holiday snow globe.  Unfortunately, the snow globe had Santa Claus in it, and a few team members were Hindus.  The other teammates got stopped at security trying to return home because of the water in the snow globe.  While really well intended, the gift ended up being cringe-worthy.

Dave’s gift ideas: 

  • I have a widely-dispersed team with members who contribute special strengths. One key to successful collaboration is to find ways to leverage the collective brains of all individuals, each of whom brings a unique combination of talent, creativity, knowledge and experience. I let everyone know that their ideas are valued and valid, and if they have good ideas, I encourage them to run with them. Fostering a sense of empowerment and autonomy is especially important for a team where members are not always able to have real-time conversations.
  • Throughout the year, I try to make sure that everyone on my virtual team feels connected and appreciated in every interaction. I do this by creating an environment where every voice has an equal opportunity to express itself in a safe place. I thank each person for offering their ideas and opinions, and make sure that senior executives are made aware of team members’ contributions, whether through an email or a meeting.
  • We have some formal ways to say thanks, including awarding modest gifts as recognition for notable performance to more formal financial awards for outstanding achievement. Given that sending actual gifts can be challenging, considering the size of my team, these gifts seem to be greatly appreciated.
  • Many of my team members live and work in markets where talent is at a premium.  We know how fortunate we are to have such a strong team, so we create an environment where people really like coming to work every day, where they feel like they’re always learning and challenged in good ways, and where they truly like their colleagues and thrive on working with other smart people.
  • The gift my team members give to each other, every day, is amazing support to help each other get work done toward the achievement of team goals. We really act as a team, rather than as a collection of individuals. If there’s an important deadline, and someone is out or can’t deliver on their commitment, everyone comes together to pick up their work, without question and without having to be asked. This is a team that cares about each other, which is probably the greatest gift of all.

Giving gifts that people will really appreciate doesn’t necessarily require a lot (or really any) money. But it does require that you know enough about each person on your team and put enough thought into it to find that perfect something that says “I appreciate you.” While giving thanks can (and should) take place throughout the year, the holidays are a perfect time to pause, reflect, and express gratitude in ways large and small.


Past Communiqués:

Article by author and blogger Adam Grant:  10 ways to get ahead through giving

Kiva, a site that matches small business people around the world with those who can make modest loans to help their businesses grow

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