Sweet, Sweet Reward

Celebrating team successes is essential to further productivity — and employee satisfaction

Back Article May 20, 2016 By Tania Fowler

Maybe leadership has hung inspirational quotes on the walls of your office, like: “Risk Equals Reward,” “Go Big or Go Home” or “Just Do It.” These messages beckon you to achieve more than you ever thought possible. So you do. Your team busts hard and accomplishes a clear, long-term goal. High fives all around! Now, go after the next big project waiting for you on the other side of the finish line. Wait, what now?

There needs to be a recognizable pause between one monumental accomplishment and the next. That pause can be filled with a simple celebration for what has been achieved. Not a mere slap on the back or an interoffice email, but an actual in-person celebration. Successfully completing a big hairy project doesn’t simply happen; employees expend a significant amount of time — so too should leadership expend critical thought into celebrating their employees’ stellar accomplishments.

A lame trophy, coffee mug or T-shirt is no reward for employees breaking their backs to achieve goals that propel their company forward. (Even worse is when leadership doesn’t choose the reward, instead asking someone else to because they couldn’t be bothered to sprain their brain.) Rewarding excellence is part of a leader’s job. There is nothing worse than working hard, day after day, with nary a nod of thanks. A leader’s lack of sincere appreciation only breeds resentment, high turnover or subterfuge.

Thoughtful leaders build teams and environments where people get stuff done effectively. Celebrating the successful efforts of employees is a great way to encourage future successes. What else do celebrations reinforce?

Goal-Setting: A celebration reminds everyone of the importance of setting goals in the first place. Connecting people back to the original purpose of the goal is key, as this helps them understand the importance of their role. Wins drive behavior that promotes clarity, intention and excellence.

Clear Goals: Goals are achieved by first clarifying the priorities and responsibilities to which employees can respond with specific action. When a goal’s ambiguity is removed, people can more effectively rally around the steps to do the job.

Momentum: Great morale builds greater momentum. Shared accomplishments ignite the collective talents of a team. Celebrating that achievement generates positivity, which is a terrific team builder in itself — it’s nearly impossible to stay dour and negative while smiling. This doesn’t mean interpersonal issues won’t exist or pop up, but building morale helps to limit the worst in people.

Trust: A pattern of credibility and reliability builds trust, and trustworthy people are great at follow-through. When a team achieves a big goal together, it helps reinforce trust in one another.

Thoughtful Leadership: By celebrating wins, leaders are demonstrating an understanding that employees’ lives at work are not simply about a paycheck. When employees see their leaders taking pride in the team’s efforts, they do too. And when leaders roll up their sleeves to help out, respect flows both ways.

So, for you thoughtful leaders out there, here are some fun celebration ideas I’ve seen in action:

  • The owner of a restaurant and catering business hosts a late-night dinner with her staff after finishing a back-breaking event. Candles glow amidst a long and simply laid out table. Glorious food, flowing wine and smiling employees abound. The owner toasts everyone for another job well done. Her staff is happy, turnover is remarkably low and the business remains in high demand.
  • After a grueling yet highly successful annual enrollment effort, an IT leadership team surprises arriving employees one morning by greeting them enthusiastically at the door and handing out trinkets with gift cards hidden inside. Later they surprise them again with lunchtime food trucks where the CEO chows down with the team and toasts their tireless efforts and success.
  • An accounting firm celebrates employees’ excellence and exhaustion at the finish line of a long tax season with annual organized team activities like scavenger hunts about town. Weekly games such as Spin to Win and Team Trivia during the height of tax season are designed to keep employees’ minds engaged in something fun besides complicated tax returns.
  • Some millennials I spoke with have been grateful for unexpected days off after completing particularly challenging projects. They also appreciate one-on-one meetings with the boss recognizing their efforts. Celebration doesn’t have to cost money: People love to be seen and heard, and expressing that kind of recognition can go a long way in bringing out the best in employees.
  • Another company decided peer-to-peer acknowledgment was really important, so HR keeps a stack of gift cards available that employees can give to coworkers they feel go above and beyond. “I caught you doing something great” comment cards are also provided for people to give to each other to reinforce the sense of camaraderie. This activity promotes peer-to-peer accountability.
  • Daniel Pink, author of the employee motivation book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests giving employees what he calls a “FedEx Day.” “Set aside an entire day where employees can work on anything they choose, however they want, with whomever they’d like,” he writes. “Make sure they have the tools and resources they need. And impose just one rule: People must deliver something — a new idea, a prototype of a product, a better internal process — the following day.” This unique way of celebrating employees shows a leader’s respect for staff, and encourages employees to be creative and innovative.

Celebrating one another is vital to maintaining an energetic and productive staff. Happy employees are worth cultivating, just like a thriving garden. Perhaps add this inspirational quote by famed American horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey to your office wall: “A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” 


Barbara Hendrickson (not verified)May 23, 2016 - 12:09pm

There is a theory and a structure around designing effective employee (and consumer and channel) incentives and promotions. A certified Incentive Professional to help you is a good place to start: www.incentivemarketing.org