In the fast-paced world of product design, celebrating successes often takes a backseat to chase the next goal. But failing to acknowledge achievements together as a team can impact motivation, growth, and job satisfaction.

 Sunshine broad daylight fireworks, minimalistic digital art, generated with DiffusionBee
Sunshine broad daylight fireworks, minimalistic digital art, generated with DiffusionBee

☕ Celebrating successes is a team effort

One of the most frequent issues I’ve seen teams raise on retros is to celebrate successes more. This goes both for large things (like new product launches) and also for small things (like crushing a week’s tasks), it just seems we never get enough of celebrating. A lot of teams seem to be struggling with establishing the rituals to acknowledge wins, which also seems to be holding back the team from growing.

When I started leading teams many years ago, one of my first reports told me that if I want to lead a team and not just have a group of designers, I’ll need to create rituals, especially around celebrating. So I did the most simple thing I could think of - I started to bring cakes and have events with the team where we took a bit of time during the day to hang out. After a while, I even baked the cakes myself (learning a valuable skill in the process). This worked well but also was just the first step in celebrating wins in a way that built the team.

For a lot of people and a lot of teams, celebrating seems to be hard. People focus on the next goals and don’t have time to look back. Sometimes the bar for success is set so high that anything below astounding success is not worth celebrating, small wins and successes are not worth kudos. People might feel there is no time to hang out, as there is a stream of tasks waiting. And also some teams have developed a culture that keeps them from acknowledging wins leaving no place for team members to come together.

In fast-paced product orgs, all these issues hit even harder. Projects are seemingly never done, and big launches are overshadowed by iterative development and staged rollouts. Phases are flowing ahead continuously. Teams are always after the next experiment, feature or customer needs to take care of. Even small wins are difficult to recognize.

When there are no celebrations, motivation and engagement decline. Achievements get unnoticed, people don’t grow as much as they have the potential to, and there is a lack of reflection and learning. Morale sinks and overall job satisfaction declines. Team members might experience burnout and stress. So recognizing and celebrating achievements is crucial for fostering a positive work environment, boosting team morale, and maintaining a motivated and engaged team.

On the plus side, if the team celebrates, there is better motivation and engagement, morale and team cohesion improves (which is especially important for distributed design teams), there is more space for learning and improvement, and team members get more confidence in their abilities and value.

When it comes to establishing a culture that celebrates, team leaders have a crucial role. They are leading by example - actively acknowledging wins and creating a positive tone and routine for celebrations, but their role goes beyond that. Leaders also need to foster a supportive environment where sharing and especially sharing success is encouraged. This includes more broadly sharing success stories from the team. Team cultures celebrate more if it not only comes from the top but also because peers recognize wins.

Organizing celebrations might be hard, especially for more diverse teams, just doing a social event after work might not cut it. Team members might have conflicting needs. Going out for drinks late? Would be better to go home early and play with the kids. Getting the team together during work time is better (we are celebrating work achievements after all). The range of rituals goes from simply sharing in chat to having a proper award ceremony. The best rituals also include peer-to-peer recognition (for example listing appreciation on a retro session) and shared learning (showing a success story to the rest of the team).

Also, sharing food is never a miss. It increases bonding, creates an informal atmosphere, and provides a tangible way of recognition. And it’s just nice to kick back and relax a bit together.

Either way being personal and authentic is important. Most of the awkward remote team meetings when corona started were neither. Teams haven’t had time yet to figure out how they do their rituals online. The laid-back Friday afternoon beers don’t translate well to the online space.

Some other methods to use:

  • Success Bell: I’ve seen mostly the sales team use it, but does create a simple and tangible way to celebrate.
  • Wall of Fame: A dedicated space on a wall where the team can display project highlights, achievements, and success metrics, similar to team dashboards.
  • Success Newsletter: A regular newsletter that highlights the team’s successes and milestones, including project updates, notable achievements, and individual/team spotlights.
  • Success Storytelling Sessions: Informal sessions where team members can share stories of success, lessons learned, and challenges overcome.
  • Thank-You Notes: Personalized thank-you notes to team members to express gratitude for their specific contributions to the success. Handwritten highlights of individual achievements and their impact can go a long way in making team members feel valued. And whichever you choose, don’t forget the food aspect.

Even if leaders lead by example, celebrating is a team sport. Rituals only work if team members not only participate but actively contribute - otherwise it becomes forced. Taking turns in organizing or leading sessions helps a lot, as providing space for team members to come up with their ways of celebrating.

🥤 To recap

  • Celebrating wins is often overlooked, but it’s crucial for team growth and morale. Establishing rituals to acknowledge successes is key, starting with simple gestures like bringing in cakes or organizing team events.
  • Challenges like focusing on future goals and setting high success standards can make celebrating difficult, but it’s important to make time for reflection and acknowledge small wins.
  • In fast-paced product organizations, the continuous flow of projects and tasks can make it harder to recognize achievements, leading to decreased motivation and engagement.
  • Celebrating successes boosts motivation, engagement, team cohesion, and learning opportunities. It fosters a positive work environment, enhances morale, and contributes to job satisfaction.
  • Team leaders play a crucial role in establishing a culture of celebration. They lead by example, create supportive environments for sharing successes, and encourage peer recognition. Personalization, authenticity, and inclusive rituals contribute to a successful celebration culture.

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🍪 Things to snack on

The Power of Small Wins by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer is a deep dive into the progress principle, how it affects motivation and mood in general, and also how it contributes having a great day at work. Part of progress is meaning, catalyst (work supporting activities), and nourishers (interpersonal support) which help to shift people’s perception of work and themselves. If there are celebrations, they should act as nourishers but still connect to meaning and catalysts.

I liked the core idea of Micro-wins: celebrating progress over success by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, to not only focus on the large wins but also the daily small victories. This helps to keep a sense of progress - which is a good predictor of having a good day. These micro-wins can be anything, like crossing out a task item (one reason why it makes sense to break up all large tasks into at least 10 smaller steps). The real power of micro-wins comes through celebration - which creates further positive feedback loops.

While more about celebrating personal wins, the same ideas from Kim Witten’s’ 7 meaningful ways to celebrate success can be applied in teams. These seven ways can also act as guidelines when setting up rituals (like publicizing, thanking, and sharing).

Lucy Bishop has a few tips for remote workers in Your Working From Home Celebration Tips. Having a kudos channel, celebrating on end-of-week get-togethers, or getting random gifts might sound cheesy if they are forced, but these are some of the obvious choices to give and get praise.

David Villa lists several reasons why teams should celebrate in How Celebrating Success Can Lead To More Of It. It boosts morale, it can lessen interpersonal conflicts, can lead to more successes, impacts the bottom line. But maybe the most important advice the article gives on how to celebrate is to find out what works for your team.