As we come towards the end of the financial year here in Australia, reporting and end-of-year tasks are inclined to take over. The end of year and end of project milestones are aligning for our team, and so the topic of appreciation is top of mind. It is important to differentiate between appreciation and recognition. Read on to find out the simple yet significant role appreciation plays in high-performing teams.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review highlighted findings from research conducted by Ignite 80 and Front Page on the characteristics of high-performing teams. The five key findings may interest those looking to build more effective teams.

Tight five (you can read the article for more)

  1. They are more inclined to pick up the phone (yup, even though we’re all now screen meeting experts)
  2. They are more strategic with their meetings (we are massive fans of this – see ‘Hosting With Purpose‘)
  3. They invest time bonding and chatting about non-work topics (In my monthly newsletter I share tips on team building authentic connections, you can sign up here)
  4. They give and receive appreciation more frequently (it doesn’t need to be a big deal)
  5. They’re more authentic at work

When it comes to building extraordinary workplaces and high-performing teams, researchers have long appreciated that three psychological needs are essential: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Of those three essential needs, relatedness, or the desire to feel connected to others, has always been the trickiest for organisations to cultivate.

One key reason that relatedness leads to better performance at work is that it makes employees feel valued and appreciated. The study found that members of high-performing teams reported receiving more frequent appreciation from their colleagues and managers, and also expressing appreciation to their colleagues more frequently. This suggests that within the best teams, appreciation is a norm that is observable in peer-to-peer interactions.

Appreciation Is Not The Same As Recognition

Appreciation is not the same as recognition, say the authors of ‘5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’. Recognition typically places emphasis on performance, length of tenure or completion of a task. Appreciation focuses on valuing the human that’s in front of you for who they are and what they contribute, their intrinsic value if you prefer. Whilst many organisations have some form of recognition embedded in annual reviews or working approaches, appreciation, because of its personal nature, relies on leaders of teams to cultivate environments in which appreciation can be fostered. It’s a deep part of the human psyche; when I look at this human needs wheel feeling appreciated builds on more than 50%.

Human Needs Wagon Wheel

The languages of appreciation are based on the book the 5 Love Languages, originally written in the 1990s by a pastor focusing on a message of understanding others to his congregation. If you can get past the cringy ‘love languages’ name, there’s a lot to consider about how we relate and show our appreciation to our people.

It’s another way of better understanding how people express who they are and the kind of validation needs they prefer. The 5 ways that we are appreciated is with through:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality time
  3. Acts of Service
  4. Gifts of Appreciation
  5. Physical touch

It’s about making a more authentic connection with the people you work with; give it some thought. The idea that to truly appreciate somebody, we must have an existing relationship and have understood a little bit about who they are means that we need to put a little bit more proactive effort in, especially when those people are not collocated.

Figuring out a way to appreciate those closest to you requires you to do a little work, but it can deliver some significant benefits.

How do you figure out what others value?

One suggestion, observe what others complain about. Not having enough time? Maybe ‘Quality Time’ is their preference. No one helps or pitches in? It could be an ‘Acts of Service’ preference. It’s about a little observation over time and building it into everyday interactions. Alternatively, look for how they most naturally express their appreciation, do they write hand written notes ‘Words of Affirmation’ or come in ready for the high five ‘Physical Touch’ or leave a gift on desks ‘Gifts of Appreciation’.

The big insight for me was a practice that I’m going to appropriate from Holly Ransom; she puts the ‘appreciation preference’ next to each person’s name on her phone so that when she connects with them, she has a reminder of which language they prefer. An excellent daily way of making your communication land for the receiver rather than the sender.

Zingerman’s Deli CEO Ari Weinzweig once said, “If you don’t create a great, rewarding place for people to work, they won’t do great work.” We at 6R have a lot of project miles (and meetings) under our collective belts. I started with the objective of ‘interesting work with great people’ and am incredibly grateful that the 6R team gets to work with great people on interesting projects. We believe that businesses need to invest in their employees if they want them to produce high-quality results.