When did someone last say 'thank you' or signal gratitude for something you'd done at work?
We each of us like to know that we've had some impact when we show up at work. We each of us know intrinsically that 'success is a team sport' and none of us are isolated islands in our work. We have all felt the flush of pride, appreciation and trust at some point in our career on the words of a colleague thanking us for a job well done.
Simon Sinek highlights in 'The Infinite Game' that strong relationships are the foundation of high performing teams, and gratitude and thanks are shown to be effective drivers to building those underpinning relationships. We all of us want to turn up each day and be considered 'high performing', but we cannot do that alone.
In an organisation or team that aspires to be 'high performing', how do we go about it? Where do we start? Does it take a lot of effort? I'll share some of the simple things that my teams have done on this journey, and give some tips on how you can start to have impact with your own teams.
There may not be anything new here - the resources section at the bottom indicates that this is a topic that is well researched, and well covered. I'm just going to share in the hopes that it resonates and gives you something you can take away and make tangible.
If you are comfortable with the 'why', and want to see our journey, skip ahead
Why is gratitude and thanks important at work?
We are, in 2021, experiencing the 'Great Resignation' - people are leaving bad (or even average) jobs in droves, and finding jobs instead that fit their lifestyle, patterns and purpose more. We are also seeing record levels of burnout, exhaustion has set in, the yo-yo of lockdowns and personal isolation have all taken their toll.
With this as the backdrop, it has become a competitive disadvantage for employers who are not investing in staff wellbeing, growth, culture, progression and the environment the employees spend their time.
Gratitude and thanks are some of the underpinnings that help us build better relationships. How did you feel about your team mate after they publicly thanked you for the help you gave them?
Trust is a key driver to high performance, whether you look at Lencioni and the 5 Dysfunctions, or Amy Edmondson and Psychological Safety (and it is accepted that Psychological Safety and Trust are different, but individual trust is one of the gateway drugs to group psychological safety).
Gratitude and Thanks give another simple vehicle to building better relationships with team mates, which will ultimately help that team work better together and generate better outcomes.
Let's talk about feedback
It's worth us disambiguating here - feedback, and by that I mean regular and ongoing measured and actionable feedback, is essential in all teams. The 'feedback bomb' - once a year at appraisal, or in quarterly structured reviews - is not good enough in the modern workplace. We can do so much better than this.
Gratitude and thanks sit alongside feedback as a communication mechanism that give us tools to talk with others. In some instances, they can be synonymous - "thanks" can be all of the things you'd hope for from positive feedback: Specific, Timely, Actionable, and Empathatic. But they often won't have those aspects, and that's ok.
Where does recognition fit into this?
It's worth touching on 'recognition' also - as there is significant overlap between that and gratitude and thanks. For me, recognition is the formalisation and structure that lives alongside those things, and can manifest in employers with things such as 'peer bonuses', 'nominations', 'awards', etc. They can be a little more complex to setup and make equitable, and are certainly worth having, though you do not need to 'boil the ocean' when starting out with gratitude and thanks, and solving for all of the cases that recognition aims to solve for may be something that comes later. You can start small and informally and have huge impact without formalising.
How do I start?
This doesn't have to be hard, though there are some things that really can help you make it part of the fabric of your team:
- Keep it simple - it should be easy for you to give thanks, there should be no barriers.
- Keep it in peoples' minds - triggers you put in place to remind people can make a huge difference. Even if it's just a slack reminder a few times per week in your general channel asking 'Who has made you feel better this week? Have you thanked them for it?' - don't wait to do this though, keep it light, but keep it in the foreground.
- Keep it visible - thanks shared publicly will tend to have a self fulfilling impact, and encourages others to share their own publicly too.
- Make it equitable - this should be easy for EVERYONE to give feedback. This is not manager -> employee, this is anyone -> anyone.
This could be as simple as creating a channel in your team messaging app (slack, teams, etc.) at work for 'thanks', and allowing people to post in there each time they wanted to share something. It doesn't have to be grand, and it doesn't have to be complex. The articles I list in the resources below give a number of other pathways and methods you can extend it, but don't be afraid to 'start simple' and experiment from there.
Some direct examples from our
- @EmployeeName Thank you for always taking the time to jump on a call explaining and answering questions I have.
- Thank you @EmployeeName for your fantastic work on the cyber security review which we are finding ourselves in - this will be a tricky one, but your effort puts us in a really good spot.
- @EmployeeName I really appreciate your continuous support, always there to listen and helping me to be better in what I like to achieve. Even at times, I struggle, you always show kindness, giving me space to discover and work towards a better outcome
- @Employee1 @Employee2 @Employee3 I already said it on slack but I feel like you all did an amazing job on the Australia presentation. You were able to answer all the stakeholder concerns with detail and empathy. Really proud to work with you all.
- @EmployeeName Big thank you for completing the horribly painful task of fixing the QA builds!
You don't have to wait for something big to say thanks - it's actually easier to do if you don't. If someone asks a question the awkward question in a meeting that changes the outcome, if someone offers support on a thorny issue, or if someone just made you smile - thank them.
There are a few things to be aware of when putting something like this in place though - we do not want this to be a means to glorify over work. A person who is demonstrating heroics and working outside of their role should of course be a candidate for praise, but they should equally be a candidate for a support discussion with their manager. Your culture is your behaviours, and not getting thanked publicly doesn't mean someone isn't doing a great job. There is a great quote from 'The Haystack Syndrome' by Eliyahu Goldratt: "Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave". Focus on ensuring that those that are doing good work at their jobs are being recognised and thanked for it and focus on equity, not championing heroics.
My teams' journeyOur team [used a product](https://www.15five.com/) to track check-ins, 1:1s and other aspects, and out of the box it came with something called 'high fives'. The team engaged in a weekly check in using the tool (spending 15mins to reflect and share), and there was a section within there to 'Appreciate teammates by sharing the impact they had on you'. We coupled that with a `#thanks` channel in slack, and all high fives were posted automatically to the thanks channel too.
It was a simple start, though it resonated with our teams. There are some key breakdowns in the attached video that give insight into a year of thanks in 2020. Here's a video sumarising it.
I know, I know - our team really were called 'Dreamforce'. It wasn't our fault ;)
What has the impact of this been? It's not easy to attribute healthy challenge, debate, shared working, regular feedback etc. to one cause, but this plays a part, however small, in creating a generative environment where people can turn up and be their best selves. It also has a few more indirect benefits - as a manager supporting a team, seeing thanks being given can give us a more rounded view of our teams (albeit pending the gotcha above).
In the overall jigsaw of creating an effective environment and culture for teams, gratitude and thanks are a powerful tool in building relationships and trust, and you don't have to wait - start simple and build from there.
- Foster a Culture of Gratitude
- The Side Effects of Thank You
- What is Gratitude and Why is it so Important
- How to Build a Culture of Gratitude at Work
- How to Create a Gratitude Culture in the Workplace
- How to Foster a Culture of Gratitude
- Creating a Culture of Recognition
- 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year Round