How to celebrate success in your team – and why you need to do this more

Saying “great job!” is one of the simplest but most valuable things any leader can say.

That’s because celebrating success can have a variety of tangible benefits for any team, including:

  • Bringing team members together and creating positivity;
  • Helping to build momentum and a sense of progress;
  • Improving morale, and making the hard times feel worth it; and
  • Creating a sense of meaning in people’s work.

According to organisational anthropologist, author and CEO Judith Glaser, celebrating success stimulates feelings of “inclusion, innovation, appreciation, and collaboration” because celebration releases the brain chemical dopamine which “is a reward to our brains like treats are to animals”.

What you choose to celebrate also tells your team what is important to your organisation and helps them focus their energy on more impactful work.

Here’s how to better celebrate success in your NFP workplace to build a stronger, more motivated team:

When should you celebrate?

Celebrating success is something that comes naturally in our personal lives: we celebrate milestones like birthdays and anniversaries; major events like a wedding or buying a new house; and significant challenges like quitting smoking or running a marathon. 

And yet, somehow celebrating professional achievements can seem awkward.

The secret is simple – apply the same unconscious rules you’re using out of business hours when you’re thinking about what to celebrate at work. Great opportunities include:

1. First victories

When people are new to the organisation or tackling new responsibilities for the first time, authentic praise and recognition are a great way to give them confidence that they are on the right track. 

2. Consistently good work 

In any organisation there are people working in the background doing important but less glamorous work to keep the wheels turning. By celebrating these unsung heroes, you can demonstrate that dedication and perseverance are valued and will not be taken for granted.  

3. Being a team player

No major victory is achieved without the many small contributions of supportive individuals pitching in to help their fellow teammates. Encouraging and celebrating the times when individuals supported and helped each other in small ways reminds your team that their actions have an impact. 

4. Upholding company values

Your company values define who you are and what you stand for and can be considered behavioural guidance for your team. When your team members live your values, they are helping to reinforce your organisational culture

How should you celebrate?

Expressing gratitude is vital but how you express it may be just as important. You can ensure praise feels authentic and sincere by being clear and specific in your thanks. Describe:

1. The action taken by your team member

Did they complete a specific task like produce a report or plan an event, or have they demonstrated an ongoing behaviour that will have long term transformative change? Give details to show that you have noticed their work.

2. The impact of that action. 

This provides context to the reward and makes the individual feel empowered about how their work is making a difference to the organisation.

3. The reward. 

A reward can be tangible – a gift or a bonus – but it can also be anything from a thank you note to a public acknowledgement to a team event. The important thing is to plan the style and scale of a reward so they feel special, significant and commensurate with the achievement you’re celebrating.

How can NFPs reward people without a budget?

Many NFPs are constrained by budgets, which means expensive gifts or bonuses are difficult to justify. But that shouldn’t stop your team from celebrating wins, large and small.

There are so many cheap or free ways to celebrate. But what is key is knowing how different people in your team like to celebrate or be celebrated: while some staff members will bask in the opportunity to be singled out in a meeting or celebrated at a team lunch, others can find it excruciating. 

Consider what is appropriate to the person or team and the circumstances when planning suitable ways to celebrate. For example:

  • A public announcement or special event. Extroverts and people who enjoy being the centre of attention will appreciate a public thank you in a team meeting. This is also a great way to celebrate bigger wins or when you want to thank the whole team. 
  • A hand-written note or card. An introvert will value the thought and personal effort of a hand-written note and may treasure it as a keepsake, drawing ongoing encouragement and motivation from it. 
  • A private conversation. This should be scheduled specifically to offer thanks and not cluttered with other agenda items. This type of celebration is suitable for those who are shy, or don’t like to be singled out, and prefer a personal thank you.
  • A company-wide email or newsletter announcement. This is a great way to recognise an entire team, or a quiet achiever who has been doing a consistently good job at the same task over a period of time.
  • A personal email from a manager or a senior leader. This approach is suitable for senior team members or star performers who receive frequent public accolades. It’s one way to give them the recognition they deserve without taking up a lot of their time, and without singling them out in front of a whole team.

However you choose to do it, it’s always worth making the effort and taking some time to celebrate your team’s successes. You’ll end up with a happier, more productive and more motivated team with a stronger sense of meaning and purpose in their work. 

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