Our summer staff parties used to be wild affairs with anarchic games of gladiatorial football. Teams rotated chaotically amid drinking and swimming, with a few bodies usually lying around a smoking fire the next morning. 25 years on, with some sadness, we have grown up; our staff mostly drink in moderation and our fun is risk-assessed and less edgy than in our corporate youth. However we still had a wonderfully badly designed water slide sending bodies hurtling scattergun into the reservoir this year; as I emerged dripping blood I was surprised to find Health & Safety Julie sanguinely standing by. “My day off,” she said. I noticed she wasn’t queuing up for a go though.
Attendance and mood at staff parties is a (sometimes) brutal reflection of staff morale, and a good indication of what lies ahead for an organisation. In the late ‘90s, when accountants suggested all was well, I spent days cooking for our summer party and rented a river boat and band to serenade us down the Dart. No more than 10% of staff showed up; I was gutted. It was a low point and the only answer was to drink most of the booze myself. Sure enough it turned out to be a difficult year; in the whirlygig of growth, communication and relationships had got left behind. Lasting and progressive organisations are about people enjoying a shared purpose and respecting the diversity of contributions that it takes to get there. I’m not sure Gove got that, and I don’t think many teachers would have gone to his party. KPIs and cash are a poor substitute for respect.
This year, as the shadows lengthened and the sun finally slipped behind Caddaford Hill, I stepped over a vomiting youth and sloped off, leaving the hardcore revellers to drain the bar and argue over the microphone. Looking back over the revelry and ebullient happiness made me both proud and confident that we are well placed to face the challenges ahead, be they troubled websites, flea-beetle bitten rocket or persuading you to eat more kale. Better still, after 25 years of mostly great parties, no-one has died on that water slide.