Live and Lead for Impact with Kirsten E. Ross

EP 236 Key Why’s & How’s of Celebrating Your Team 

Summary:  To create a great culture you must pair accountability with celebration, praise and recognition. 

As leaders we and, as an extension, our teams, can become extremely task oriented, which is good.  However, with a full focus on outcomes leaders can unintentionally miss opportunities to acknowledge progress or celebrate success.  In this circumstance, the team just moves immediately from one task and project to the next and there’s lost opportunity to unite as a community, acknowledge accomplishments and celebrate. 

Years ago, someone asked me what my definition of success was.  At first it seemed like a really simple question.  Once I started thinking about it, however, I realized it was more complex.  In the end, after much contemplation, I arrived at a definition that has served me since.  Success is best defined with a perfect blend of celebration for what you’ve achieved and some discontent that ignites excitement about what will come next.  

Focusing on only what comes next leaves you constantly yearning for a future that hasn’t happened yet, always driving towards achievement to relieve your discontent.  


Living with only celebration for what has already occurred, however, can leave you feeling unmotivated. I did that big thing. Now what? And it’s also a full focus on the past. 

A healthy team needs a blend of both. Most often it is the celebration side of the equation that gets less attention. As we work to do more with smaller teams our busyness, understandably, has us hyper-focusing on task completion.  And, when challenges, hiccups or emergencies arise we must shift our attention there for an immediate reaction and response.

So, be intentional about building in praise.

Celebration, recognition and praise can be simple and don’t have to require a lot of time or planning.  

As you integrate celebration, make sure it is spread throughout the organization. Most teams engage in activities that require participation from individuals across departments. Some work behind the scenes while others are more front and center. No team functions well without the whole and every task is important. 

There is a tendency to focus on the people or departments at the front of the effort and a missed opportunity to show gratitude for those working behind the scenes.  This can create division within the organization.

Humans will work to win accolades, sometimes even subconsciously. Recognition that focuses too much on those at the front may motivate teams to prioritize their own work over where they can support from behind.  The thought, “If I can focus on our team’s agenda perhaps we will be acknowledged.” This can delay important organization work. Instead make appreciation and acknowledgement abundant. Get teams working together towards common goals rather than working to meet their own departmental agendas first.

I believe that there is an innate human desire to be known, acknowledged and appreciated.  When gratitude is a scarce resource you end up fostering a “what about me” syndrome.  Any little crumb of acknowledgement or appreciation to one person leaves others thinking, “yes, but what about me?”  Humans yearn for appreciation when it is lacking.  For the good of the team, the goal is to spread gratitude abundantly but authentically.   

Focus on looking for reasons to celebrate.  From a perception perspective, our brains are miraculous!  They are able to take in millions of pieces of data in every second.  As humans, we are only able to focus on about 6 to 7 pieces of data at once, however.  We train our brains to keep certain data available for ready access.  We get to choose which data to notice, retain and act on.  There are opportunities for you to thank your team.  You just may not be in the habit of looking.  If this is the case, re-train your brain by practicing.  Seek out a set number of opportunities to appreciate someone weekly or daily.  

Maybe you are unwilling to thank people for some reason.  Some clients I’ve worked with are uncomfortable giving praise.  If this is you, work on it or seek out a coach who can help you.  Either way, choosing to look for things to celebrate will help you re-align your focus to the positive things happening.  There are plenty.  

Celebration is an important element to bringing a team together.  Look how excited football players get during a game! Grown men high five and pat each other.  Celebration motivates everyone towards a common goal.  Set achievable goals and then celebrate when you achieve them.  Celebration doesn’t have to mean party hats and champagne.  It can be ringing a bell, playing a victory song, high fiving, sending out a congratulations email to the team, writing out a card, having a pizza lunch.

Individual acknowledgement can come in many forms.  Employees who are asked to weigh in on an idea or participate in designing the roll out of a new program feel trusted and valued.  You can also provide opportunities for team members to present at organization events or to your Board.  New and special opportunities are a great way to help someone feel special.


  • Show plenty of appreciation to all. Make recognition abundant but authentic.

  • Catch employees doing something good and let them know.

  • Make sure that acknowledgments after events or program rollouts include both the front and center teams and the employees who worked in the background.

  • Leaders, change your mindset.  Be on the lookout for the good every day. Create specific goals daily or weekly to show authentic appreciation.

  • Take a moment to acknowledge the cool things happening. Even if it’s in a small way. Hit a gong or bell or send out a group email when something goes well. 

  • Utilize “Wow” Boards, a place to showcase letters of appreciation from customers and thank you’s from employees to their team mates.

  • Seek out ways to reward employees with special opportunities to represent the organization, speak at an event or attend or share at a Board Meeting. Time with you or other leaders in your team is also likely a coveted reward.

Direct download: 236.mp3
Category:leadership -- posted at: 1:00am EDT