Way To Go! by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

One of the proven ways to motivate people to behave in a specific way is through the use of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is a basic psychological principle that uses rewards to reinforce a desirable behavior.

This is the way we learn many different behaviors, skills, and areas of expertise. As a team leader, positive reinforcement and feedback is a highly effective way to not only reward team members for a job well done but also to increase the likelihood of the same positive performance in the future.

For example, bonuses or commissions for sales above a specific amount are a positive reinforcement. Coupling this with a personal message, recognition in the company newsletter, or public praise for the individual or the team offers a way to highlight, value, celebrate, and acknowledge the accomplishment.

The Carrot, Not the Stick

The opposite of positive reinforcement is punishment. Punishment involves removing or taking away something to try to eliminate undesirable behavior. In a team, this could be canceling leave if production levels were not met or eliminating flex time and requiring everyone to keep standard office hours.

While punishment can work, it causes team members to feel undervalued, unimportant, and creates situations where the team blames each other for the loss. Punishment also creates a negative workplace culture and increases tension and distrust between leaders and the team and members within the team.

Ways to Celebrate

As a team leader, planning celebrations at milestones in any big project is a great way to keep everyone motivated and engaged. Rewards can be for the team or for individuals, and a mix of both is often the most effective way to keep everyone excited and interested.

A few ideas of ways to celebrate when the team meets major or minor milestones include:

  • Formal awards ceremonies – typically for big project completion, having a formal dinner or event and having management talk about the contribution of each team member is always a popular choice. Inviting spouses and partners adds an additional level of positive reward.
  • Plan a retreat – talk to the team and get their ideas on retreats or team-building days to increase engagement and excitement about the event. Make this a fun day away from work with a focus on health, wellness, and getting to know each other.
  • Peer appreciation – consider setting up a “Way to Go” board or virtual display where peers can recognize each other’s accomplishments. This can be an ongoing and open type of recognition that works for both in-house and remote team members.
  • Surprise the team – consider planning a surprise event every month where leadership provides lunch, healthy snacks, or a fun event. It could also include rotating through the team to allow team members to leave early or come in late as a thank you for their hard work.

Celebrating with the team by recognizing their accomplishments is one of the best ways to reinforce positive behavior, build stronger teams, and make team members feel valued and respected throughout the organization.