Sabina Nawaz’s article “In Times of Crisis, a Little Thanks Goes a Long Way“, which was published this week on HBR.org, is a great reminder of the need we all have to be appreciated.
In a blog post from a few years back I’d written that team members need to possess sufficient Capacity, Capability and Commitment to contribute towards the success of the team. Daniel Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose can certainly help to kindle intrinsic motivation but we shouldn’t stop there. Abraham Maslow touched on it with the fourth level of his hierarchy of needs, esteem, and Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton wrote the book on it in The Carrot Principle.
It doesn’t need to be formal. Handing out financial rewards or trophies too frequently dilutes their value. Beyond that, you might have no budget for tangible rewards.
It should not feel forced. It is almost as bad to set a schedule for recognizing team members as it is to not do it all. Like feedback, appreciation is best when it is “in the moment” and close to the time when the action prompting the appreciation occurred.
It shouldn’t always be us as the leaders giving it. When you witness everyone on your team actively participating in informally appreciating other team members without being prompted to do so, you know that the team has baked it into its DNA.
It needs to go beyond accomplishments. Those are important but might be achieved at the cost of team health. We need to consider not only what people did but how they did it. Behavioral changes are hard, and if someone has made progress by acting on constructive feedback, that should be recognized even if they fell short of their target. Teams where appreciation is given only when things are going well are effectively saying that success is all that counts.
With a virtual team, it can be a little trickier to sow the seeds of appreciation, so here are some ways in which this could be done.
- Raise the topic of appreciation when the team is defining their values and working agreements. Solicit ideas from them about what they feel is worth appreciating and how they’d like to appreciate one another. This could include how appreciation can be expressed with the different virtual collaboration tools which the team uses. Likes or positive emojis can be used for chat-based tools whereas stars, hearts or other positive stickers can be used in whiteboards or virtual canvases.
- Suggest that team members share key personal events such as birthdays or anniversaries with each other in the team’s online calendar to make it easier for team members to recognize these milestones.
- Build appreciation moments into your key team events. One approach might be to take the first ten minutes of each weekly team meeting to give team members a chance to publicly thank someone else on the team who helped them out over the past week. I have found that in events such as retrospectives, this results in better quality outcomes, especially if the team has experienced challenges leading up to the event.
- Create an appreciation board within your virtual space where team members can post thank you cards to one another.
The benefits of the recognition we receive are like the grains of sand in an hour glass. Creating a culture of appreciation within our teams is a way to ensure the sand never runs out.