The annual staff Christmas party is a milestone of sorts for most businesses.

As well as being a chance for the staff to blow off a little steam, it very often marks the end of some phase in a company's growth or development. You may have completed a successful merger, survived a tough year, landed a prize client or had to lay off good staff to reach this particular juncture.

Whatever your company has gone through during the course of the the year, the Christmas party is above all else an opportunity for the whole team to howl at the moon "We survived another year!"

The tone this celebration takes will depend in large part on the corporate culture you dwell within. Dinner jackets, diamonds and string quartets are fine for some, while others will prefer boots, beer and BBQ.

Whichever fits your team better, there are a few things I’ve learned about planning staff parties over the years:

Remember who the party is for:

This is a STAFF party, not a CEO soiree, or a management mixer.
It’s not another event to schmooze big clients or talk shop.

Make a concerted effort to encourage non-shop conversation and make it an opportunity to get to know the people behind the positions they hold.

Set a Budget

I know everyone wants to let loose a little at this time of year, but consider how extravagance can look to your staff. It’s not about lavishing them with everything money can buy, it’s about expressing your appreciation for their dedication to the company and acknowledging their value.

Ask for Ideas

If this is a staff party, ask the staff what they'd like to do.
Explain there's a budget, so Cancun for the week might not be in the cards, but find out what they like to do and try incorporate it into the event.

1 Cook in the Kitchen

Once the tough decisions are made, one person should be making any arrangements.
This of course will depend on the size of your company/event but even in the largest events, there is 1 single decision maker who makes sure the invitations go out on time and there's 1 band on stage and 4 waitstaff, not the other way around.

Timing

The holiday season is busy for everyone, so planning ahead and sending invitations out in October may seem premature, but if your event is on a Friday or Saturday night, you'll need to provide lots of lead time to ensure the majority of your staff can make it.
Midweek events are often easier to plan but will curb peoples enthusiasm and ensure that the night ends early.
Accept that you will rarely find a date that everyone can make!

Be Realistic

You can’t please everyone.
If you have a recognized naysayer in your group, get them involved. This allows them less opportunity to complain on the night, which dampens everyone's spirits.
People Drink.
Try to either provide or ensure that a safe ride home is available for anyone who needs it.
Consider having staff turn in their keys when they arrive so a safe trip home can be enjoyed by all.
Make arrangements with a local car or cab company to cover fares for the evening.
If your party is midweek, allow for a late start the following day, and have lots of coffee on hand.

Have Fun!

At the heart, a staff Christmas party is a chance to let down your hair, thank your coworkers for their support and revel in the slightly messy 'family' moments that come from letting your guard down with people who know you well, but not "that well."

Chances are you'll all learn something wonderful about each other over the course of the evening and those will be the things that bind you together and help you get through the next year.