Three Ways to Embrace Team Appreciation

user Alia Ayer

For leaders who want to make appreciation a year-round habit, this season of gratitude offers us a chance to slow down, take stock of our leadership practices and consider new experiments to incorporate. Individual appreciation goes a long way and is more often practiced than its close neighbor – team appreciation. In high-competition cultures, team appreciation can be challenging to implement, but like any leadership skill, this is one that gets easier with practice.

Team appreciation is the habit of regularly and intentionally acknowledging the achievements of a department, pod, or peer group. This kind of appreciation cuts through hierarchy and promotion competition and allows us to focus on the thing that makes work rewarding for most of us – how we feel about our colleagues and the collective impact we have because of our close collaboration. 

Here are three simple tips to extend the culture of appreciation to your team: 

1. Get good at (almost) effortless appreciation

Start small! At Trium, giving appreciation every seven days is our goal post. We have several forums for on-the-spot appreciation including a #kudos Slack channel, weekly team meetings and carving out space at our quarterly offsites. Even with people who are brand new to our team, we practice noticing what’s special about what they bring to the team – their curiosity, their learning mindset, their presence. 

It turns out you don’t need a ton of data to appreciate someone. I recently attended a virtual workshop with a group of strangers, where we drew the face of our partner from across the computer screen. The trick was we weren’t allowed to look at the paper. You can imagine the “art” that resulted! At the end of the exercise, we were asked to add three words to describe the other person. Even though I didn’t know my partner, this short, simple exercise gave me a window into something beautiful about her spirit. 

2. Establish an informal weekly practice of team gratitude

This regular practice is about finding one simple and sincere team success that was possible because of the sum of individual efforts. For example: “this team has been the backbone of the project keeping it on track and skillfully integrating multiple opinions” or “the long-term trust and relationship we’ve built with [client/customer] was extremely evident in the renewal conversation.” A short-burst moment of pride and recognition is a chance to pause before racing to the next action. This extends beyond tangible results to the quality of interactions – e.g., the level of persistence or support the team demonstrated to each other during a challenging time.

3. Focus your questions on what’s working well 

In a report card containing three Bs in English and History, an A in Biology, and a C in Math, we focus on the C. We may feel like the entire learning period was unsuccessful because of that one poor grade. As humans, we are wired for risk mitigation. Over time, however, it kills morale.

What if instead of dwelling on the C we look to the A to see what we can derive from the instruction, format, strengths, or study habits that yielded positive good results? Focusing on our strengths has been proven to propel success far more than any amount of rumination on our weaknesses. 

Before digging into improvement suggestions and lessons learned, we can train ourselves to draw insights from what’s working well. With a focus on celebration, we ask: 

  • Where did the team experiment, grow or stretch into new areas? 
  • Where did the team demonstrate a resilient pivot or a change in course that led to a better outcome? 
  • What elements of how we worked together do we want to retain?

Making team appreciation a regular practice deepens connection. With more and more work done remotely, it is the role of leaders to support new experiments in team cohesion. This collective appreciation boosts well-being from a shared sense of purpose and accomplishment. Last – and certainly not least – it improves motivation – just like a winning streak on a sports team, the momentum and positivity created from naming small wins in a group out loud impacts our mindset – it’s affirmative and yields higher performance.  

A grateful mindset is a growth mindset. In my work developing leaders at all levels and across industries, one capacity stands out as critical in navigating change and ambiguity: the ability to infuse positivity and hope among a team of individuals. Gratitude is the best way to fast-track this shared sense of optimism and progress. 

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