Santa Claus and his elves are a high performance team with decades worth of experience under their brass-buckled belts.
Many people joke that Santa and his team only work one day a year, but in truth that is far from their reality.
To prepare for Christmas and the work involved in delivering gifts worldwide, the months leading up to the holiday are filled with toy building, toy sourcing, list making, list checking, flight planning, and reindeer training.
Those tasks are what needs to be done, but not reflective of the team’s strength. Keeping up the momentum is key, which means motivating the team itself.
Santa’s experience is essential, but it is also vital that he knows his team and understands its needs. Which is why when we wanted to learn more about what it takes to run a large-scale recurring project, we knew it would take us to the North Pole to investigate.
We’ve evaluated a few elements of Santa’s leadership from which we can all learn a thing or two to apply outside the North Pole:
Santa’s work is a marathon not a sprint. For about ten months of the year, Santa and his team work away with little notice, but in late October the world is reminded that his visit is quickly approaching.
For this reason, he and his team need to find their own inspiration and satisfaction for much of the year. After Christmas, the team cleans up and organizes supplies, checks their happiness rating, then takes a hiatus to recharge before regrouping to plan for the next year. This helps prevent team burnout.
Additionally, the North Pole observes its own regional holidays and the workshop takes time out for team-building activities. Even something small like putting a candy cane on each elf’s desk in the morning can start the day with a smile. In these ways, Santa leads his team with the Slow and Steady Wins the Race philosophy.
Any leader can apply this to his or her own group by learning when the potential burnout times are and planning fun events, late start days, or lunch delivery to offset project stress.
Remote team members
Much of Santa’s list information comes from his remote team members, including elves on shelves and regional Santa representatives. With a two-fold appraisal approach, Santa’s list has over two billion people on it.
Keeping track of who’s been naughty or nice, with various levels of redemption, is made possible with input from his trusted shelf-based elves worldwide and regional Santa representatives who meet with children and adults to learn of their wishes.
Staying in touch closely with his team both within the North Pole and beyond is key, so internal messaging systems like the Teamwork Chat (beta) program we ourselves use at Teamwork.com make sharing up-to-the-second news possible.
List maintenance & streamlined communications
With about two billion people on his naughty and nice lists, it is fair to say that Santa spends considerable time evaluating their kindness. This time undoubtedly increases in the weeks leading up to Christmas when he is conferring with his elf network monitoring from shelves globally and regional Santa representatives.
But storing the master list to avoid concurrent and varying versions is vital to a streamlined process.
With Teamwork Projects, he can upload new versions accessible to his entire team, maintain it in alphabetically separated Google Drive spreadsheets, or just the trusted upper echelons of the elf network.
With Teamwork Desk, letters to Santa can be organized and never mislaid in the wrong email folder. He can even reassign tickets to any of his regional representatives or warehouse elves. The reports feature also helps the team understand its resources and know if extra elves are needed to answer tickets in the busy weeks of December.
Behind the scenes upgrades & support
With so much experience and decades upon decades (centuries even) of Christmases under his pom-pom topped hat, Santa Claus knows that tradition, trust, and reputation matter to children worldwide.
He also knows that to be effective in changing times, he and his team must focus on behind the scenes upgrades to constantly improve his systems and processes. From assembly line improvements in the workshop to subfloor heating in the reindeer barn, Santa keeps on eye on the upgrades that improve quality for his team.
It is the little things that count when supporting your team. Regular chimney sweeping to maintain good air quality in the elf cottages, constant availability of hot chocolate and candy canes in the kitchens at HQ, and an on-site cobbler to make sure the elf shoes always have a cheerful jingle.
These lessons can easily be applied to any company with a focus on upgrades specific to your own team. Water coolers and water bottles to stay hydrated, loaner umbrellas (or snowshoes) by the door for inclement weather, office plants, or on-site meals and snacks. Sometimes it is the tiny things that matter most.
Each year, without fail, Santa Claus and his reindeer travel the world to bring presents (and joy) to the people on his nice list. But behind the red suit stands a large and skilled team of elves to help him get the job done.
Just as the work puts demands on the team with time constraints and sometimes even a strain on resources, Santa as team leader must replenish and balance that with motivation, communications, upgrades, and support while also staying in close touch with his entire North Pole and global network so each elf knows he or she is valued and makes a difference.
This isn’t so different than any high performance team, except maybe your boss doesn’t wear a red suit with fur lining, a nightcap, and a black belt with a large buckle.