This is an excerpt from my new book, Organizational Psychology for Managers
One of the most important things you can do as a team is periodically celebrating progress. It is always more motivating to look at how far you’ve come rather than how far you have yet to go. Indeed, it’s more motivating to say, “we’re half done,” than to say, “There’s still half left to do.” The two statements may be mathematically equivalent, and IBM’s Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer, would probably find them identical. If you happen to be employing Watson, then it may not matter what you say. However, if you happen to be employing people, it matters.
In jujitsu practice, the students who always focus on how far off the black belt is tend to not finish the journey. Those who focus on how far they’ve come are the ones who keep coming back.
You don’t need to highlight individuals every time you do this; in fact, you shouldn’t. The goal is not to make anyone feel bad for not getting as much done as someone else; rather, it’s simply about sharing success. Feeling that the team is making progress helps boost everyone’s morale, increases team cohesion, and helps build trust.
Depending on your organizational culture, you can occasionally highlight individual accomplishments in much the way that some sports teams will highlight most valuable players. It’s important, though, to pay close attention to how people work and what they expect. At Atari, a new CEO tried to transform the highly collaborative, team-based culture into a more individual, competitive culture. He focused heavily on “engineer of the week,” and other such awards. However, engineers at Atari viewed game development as a collaborative process, where everyone worked together to produce a quality product. The focus on individual performance shattered the team structure, turning high performance teams back into struggling level one groups. Atari never recovered.
When you celebrate team successes, you build relationships, strengthen competence, and provide the trust necessary for greater levels of autonomy. Success builds on success just as failure feeds on failure. What you focus on is what you get.
Stephen Balzac is an expert on leadership and organizational development. A consultant, author, and professional speaker, he is president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development firm focused on helping businesses get unstuck. Steve is the author of “The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,” published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of “Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.” Steve’s latest book, “Organizational Psychology for Managers,” is due out from Springer in late 2013. For more information, or to sign up for Steve’s monthly newsletter, visit www.7stepsahead.com. You can also contact Steve at 978-298-5189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.