Celebrating achievements is one of those small ways that you can use to transform the culture and environment within your team and/or company, depending on the scale you’re looking at. It often seems more complicated in theory than it actually is: you need to find a way to do it that targets the right people, that rewards the correct behaviours and that everyone recognises as a celebration, rather than tries to avoid participating in. It doesn’t have to be that complicated, though. What’s valuable is recognising when someone (or when your whole team) does a great job and expressing that explicitly and directly. This alone makes the difference. If your team has questions about how you perceive their performance, it’s a sign that they don’t know where they stand. Small gestures with this spirit behind them can help a lot.
Some people will say that celebrating rarely makes those celebrations much more valuable. If you, for example, praise everyone for doing an amazing job every day, that will eventually become routine and meaningless. If everyone knows that you do one post-peak season party across the company every year, it’s hard to make it feel special. The point of this isn’t to say you should do it all the time, but you should try to do it sometimes, when it’s meaningful.
I’ve written more extensively about different ways to improve the motivation in your team in other articles. You could go through those to get to this conclusion or you could arrive there through simple observation. Either way, you’ll eventually notice that some people are deeply motivated by recognition of their work from the people around them.
This can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Some people care about the impact they have in their jobs and enjoy feeling like the work they do on a day-to-day basis plays a role in the bigger picture and has meaning and influence beyond their sphere. Other people simply like the feeling that they’re appreciated and valued in their role. Others enjoy the status that comes when their teammates give them positive feedback about their work. Almost all of these different types will find it meaningful to celebrate achievements.
When it comes to group dynamics, periods of high stress, when a team has to handle a high volume of work in a very short period of time, can be incredibly valuable for team cohesion. When people work intensely hard, at much higher levels of performance than they’re usually able to sustain, they often need some kind of reward on the other side of that experience. Celebration is a big part of that. If you find yourself struggling to remember to set something up occasionally, here are some ways to help you get started.
Define an Achievement
The easiest way to start is to brainstorm what kinds of achievements you think are worth celebrating to begin with. Do you have an idea of what low, normal, and high performance looks like, on an individual basis and across your team? When you have that, it’ll be easier to identify the type of performance that you would consider extraordinary. Having that in place will help you in general when it comes to assessing the performance of your team but it’s absolutely necessary for you to even recognise achievements.
Do you have processes in place through which you regularly set goals for your team? As part of that process, you should have something in place for regular evaluation, so you can improve how you work on goals as a group and the goals themselves. They can be individual goals or on the team level. If you set goals properly and well, they’ll be the right mix of ambitious and achievable that you should be aiming for. If they’re ambitious and you achieve them (or even if you get close to achieving them), then this is a great sign that you’ve achieved something that’s worth celebrating.
The key thing to remember is to hit the right balance. You can use the regularity of that to judge if you’re toeing the line the way that’s most valuable. If your definition of an achievement is so low and easy to hit that you “achieve” something every day or even every week, then any celebration you do will not be meaningful. If your definition is so high that it’s almost impossible to actually hit it, then you need to lower your standards. There’s no general yardstick for how often you should celebrate something. Once a year is fine, every few months works too. It depends on the rhythm of your team’s work, the normal stress level on a day-to-day basis, the types of goals you set and so on. You can only look at your own environment and rely on your judgement to see if it’s too often or too rare.
Public Recognition and Appreciation
Celebrations are great because they often give people public recognition and appreciation. Depending on the type of person, recognition can be a huge motivator in and of itself. It’ll also help battle insecurity and self-doubt (or impostor syndrome) like nothing else. It’ll push people to keep achieving at that level because not only will they feel personal pride in their work, but they’ll feel that other people around them appreciate it as well.
The impact of this can be huge depending on the nature of your work. For example, if your work is project-based, whereby it often starts with a kick-off of some kind and there’s a clear deliverable that you have to produce by the end of it, the work always has an end in sight. It’s easy to recognise when the project is completed and therefore much easier to have this feeling of closure, resolution, or pride at the end of a day’s work.
If, on the other hand, your work is ticket-based by its nature, so that you have a continuous, steady stream of inbound or outbound messages, or your projects take much longer to complete (upwards of a year), your work might not have an end in sight. If it doesn’t have an end in sight, it will give your team the perception that they’re working on a Sisyphean task; that they can work as hard as they like, for as long as they want without ever achieving the end goal. Breaking that routine up with some kind of public recognition can be powerful.
It’s important to remember that celebrating achievements isn’t necessarily about big, grand gestures that require large investments from your company. Some of the most meaningful ways that I’ve found to recognise someone’s contribution to the company has been around using my available time in company-wide meetings to give them a shout-out. Maybe you can offer extra time off, have small team events that are just about hanging out and having a good time, or just buy a small gift that you think a person would appreciate.
Small gestures tend to be more personal and targeted. The person (or your team) will know that you were thinking specifically of them when you came up with whatever it is you end up doing. That means a lot more than a widespread celebration that doesn’t recognise people personally for their individual contributions. It’s nice to celebrate as a group but it’s more meaningful when it is targeted.
I’ve received feedback multiple times from some of my teams that they’d love it if I celebrated achievements more. I tend to be very focused on “getting things done.” That usually means that the moment we’d finish a larger project or hit some kind of milestone, I’d already be planning on how to hit the next one. This isn’t the worst way to work – it’s usually leads to a ton of productivity. But if you find yourself in a similar position, it might help to just set up a short reminder for yourself to force yourself to think about it on a regular basis. If you do this around the rhythm of your work, it’s much easier to remember.
For example, if your company sets goals on a quarterly basis, you can set this reminder up towards the end of a quarter, when it’s a good time for you to evaluate how you’re doing anyway. If you do retrospectives on a regular basis, you could always set it up right before or right after. The main purpose of this would be to consciously take some time to think only about achievements. Not the things that you could do better or what went well. But specifically: have we had any great achievements in the last months and what can I do to celebrate them?
What you’re ultimately aiming for is the kind of environment where people are proud of their achievements, and strive to beat them on a regular basis. You want your team to feel like their work is noticed, appreciated, and valued by the people they work with, whether that’s you, who you report to, or the company as a whole. This is one easy way to level up the motivation levels in your team and their overall performance with little effort.