Peer achievement awards for team recognition

A retrospective activity to show gratitude and accomplishments

Olympics winnersI was very fortunate at work to be managing a large, high-performing team. Despite team members being located across three continents, we all had a lot of fun, got along great, valued and respected each other, and got lots of stuff done! But, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end. My team was to split into two: half would be leaving to staff another high-priority project. The remainder would merge with another small team assigned to me to finish out our project.

I knew the activity of splitting up the team could be bittersweet and upsetting, so I wanted to do something in our final team meeting together that would allow us to leave with some great memories. I came up with a Team Achievement Award activity that worked really well for us. You can also do this activity with your team in a retrospective, when you want to recognize accomplishments, or to help with team bonding by getting folks to acknowledge the good things they see in other team members.

The importance of gratitude on a team

gratitudeExpressing gratitude and thanks to co-workers (whether they’re subordinates, peers, or supervisors) is largely missing in the workplace. I do say “thank you” to team members when they’ve especially helped me out. Yet, I sometimes wonder if some of them really know how valuable and helpful they are to me.

Christine M. Riordan, Provost and professor of management at the University of Kentucky, wrote an article for Harvard Business Review entitled “Foster a Culture of Gratitude.” Riordan writes that research on appreciation and gratitude have shown that employees are motivated to do their best, better work toward accomplishing the company’s goals, and have higher job satisfaction when they feel valued. On the opposite end of the spectrum, she cites the example of a 2012 American Psychological Association study of over 1,700 employees in which “more than half of all employees intended to search for new jobs because they felt underappreciated and undervalued.”

recognitionClearly, showing appreciation and recognition of team members is important. This shouldn’t only come from the team leader. People expressing genuine gratitude to their peers can be powerful. Somebody can do a small thing to help someone else out and not think any more about it. They may not recognize the impact or helpfulness of their small action. Encouraging people to recognize others and say thanks lets people know how the significance of their actions. Fostering team gratitude also builds team cohesion. That’s why I did this activity with my team, and why it can also help your team.

Setting up the Team Achievement Award activity

I actually got my Achievement Award idea from the Token of Appreciation retrospective, one type of sprint retrospective in Agile software development. (For anyone not in software development, a “retrospective” is a facilitated team meeting in which the team reflects on what went well and went badly in the last work period. The team then decides how they want to change for the next work period to make it better.)

Since my team isn’t co-located, I didn’t want to rely on something physical like handing people chocolates. We’re also a fun group, so I wanted to do something silly and amusing. Our team name was The Honey Badgers. So, I came up with the Honey Badger Achievement Award.

Side note on the team name: Yep, we named ourselves Honey Badgers. We got it from the famous YouTube video and the honey badger obsession it spawned on the internet. (You can read more about how the honey badger got famous on the internet.) The name seemed appropriate because, like honey badgers, my team members didn’t care what they had to do…they just got it done!

Make your award

Honey Badger Achievement AwardI whipped up my award pretty quickly using Google Image Search to find pictures. I used Google Slides to throw the pictures on a page, added some text boxes, and saved it as a PDF. You can use whatever tool you’re comfortable with, such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, but I found that a presentation tool let me move around simple images and text on a page pretty quickly.

Here’s what I came up with for the Honey Badger Achievement Award. If you’d like a template to start from for your team, here’s a Google Slide, Powerpoint file, or PDF file you can use.

Have the team prepare their awards

man thinkingSince my team spanned multiple locations, I sent an email out and gave folks homework the day before our last videoconference team meeting so they’d be prepared:

Tomorrow will be bittersweet as some of our Honey Badgers move to a new team. But, we have great team spirit, and I want to end on a funny and happy note!

After the demo tomorrow morning, let’s go around and everyone can hand out Honey Badger Achievement Awards to as many team members as they’d like. (See attachment.)

Your homework before our demo tomorrow is to jot down who all you want to give awards to and why! Mull over who you’re proud of, who you’ve learned from, and any funny stories you want to share. We’ll go around the group and let people say who’d they’d award and why. For example, I could say, “I want to give an award to XXXX b/c he really helped me learn about YYYY.” or I could say, “I want to give an award to XXXX for ‘Most Tangents in a Single Meeting.'”

Remember, you can give away as few or as many awards as you’d like. The goal is for this to be fun. Let’s share some great stories of how we’ve made each other laugh and helped each other out!

If your team is co-located, you could print out some blank award certificates to give them in advance of the meeting so they can fill them out and later present them in-person.

The key to this exercise is that people explain the reasons behind their award and why they’re recognizing somebody. Therefore, you must give people some time to reflect and think about who they want to bestow with this honor.

Our awards presentation

happy employeesI was pleasantly surprised and humbled by how well this activity worked for my team! I just had somebody volunteer to get the ball rolling, then we took turns reading our awards and explaining why we gave each one. Some people shared funny stories. Most gave examples of how someone else helped them over the course of working together. But, everyone spoke from the heart.

One of the team members spoke of how she was intimidated when she first moved to our team because of the senior-level experience of everyone else. But, she was so relieved to find out how helpful and friendly everyone was. She explained how she learned and grew so much over the past year with everyone’s help, and how she considered the team a family.

I gave a silly award to one of our team members for “Best Zoolander Pose in a Profile Picture”. For a QA tester that was going to depart our team, I gave her an award for “Being Queen of Corner Case Scenarios” and explained how her ability to test edge cases in our software helped us all have confidence in the quality of the software we released.

Our ScrumMaster expressed thanks to everyone for being so welcoming to her joining the team and being receptive to her coaching and guidance.

During our achievement awards presentation, some of us got teary-eyed after hearing how much of an impact people made on each other! I think that demonstrated the power of showing gratitude to our teammates.

Have your team thank each other, and see what happens

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricityI hope this is a helpful activity you can try on your team. The activity of doing a team award really just opens the door for people to verbally express gratitude to others on the team. (In our award presentation, we quickly delved into storytelling about how the recipient helped us. The award was just a mechanism that more easily let us do that.) I hope that all but the most cynical people on a team would participate and benefit from this activity. If you do this with your team, let me know whether it worked or not! Feel free to post a comment on this blog entry.

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