The Importance of Regular Affirmation

by Tim Yeomans

Authentic Affirmation

While working with an athletic team that had suffered through three consecutive winless seasons and then amazingly transformed the next year into conference champions, a moment of insight was provided by one of the most unlikely of sources.  A young person, who had been part of the program but had played very little in any of the past four years remarked, “We got better as a team the moment the starters understood that all of us mattered”. He went on to explain that their new coach ended practice every day with “positives”. At the conclusion of each practice, the “stars” were asked to share something specific that a player on the scout team had done to make them better. He went on to explain that for the first time in four years he felt that his contribution to the program actually made a positive difference in the success of the team.  He shared that being part of “this team” was something of which he was exceptionally proud.

We have heard on many occasions how important “being on a good team” is to human beings.  We relish in successful teams or groups and the “magic” that has seemed to occur at random leading to their shared success.  Most everyone, if asked, expresses a desire to be on a great team. Many persons thrust into leadership roles struggle to actualize conditions where a great team can grow, improve and accomplish shared goals.  One key strategy in the formation and continued development of a successful team is regular authentic affirmation of the contributions made by all, not just the leader or the stars.

On a high functioning team, the more senior members, and particularly the leader, make time to nurture and grow the more junior members of the team.  Those who perform essential support roles are regularly celebrated and their contributions noted when the “pressure is on” and the project must be completed and sent tonight.  The described culture is in direct contrast to the work environment where “paying your dues” and “putting in your time” often show up as mild hazing or initiation. It is nearly impossible to find a study on leadership or productivity that endorses a culture that disincentivizes belonging and emphasizes divisions within the team.  “You work hard for me, and you’ll get yours later” is no longer a formula that has any basis for continued existence in the workplace, yet it persists.

Making space regularly to clearly identify and share the good things that were accomplished together is a manageable practice that requires only time, caring and attention to detail on the part of the leader. Creating a culture where the more senior, better paid, and more influential team members authentically affirm and encourage the junior team members is a practice that reinforces the cornerstone of business success; positive working relationships.

In Seattle, the professional football team takes time before every game to raise the “12” flag honoring the contribution of the fans who attend and actively partake in the games.  Over many years the participation of the fans, in the form of deafening noise, has played a very small part in the sustained success of the team. By taking time to first raise the flag and express authentic appreciation for the contribution of the supporters, the star athletes then enjoy a level of support that is often described as “unapparelled”.

A business culture that nurtures and grows its junior members; an organization that makes the time to authentically affirm the contributions of the support staff; a workgroup that makes a point of  demonstrating its norms and values by willingly sharing and helping others on the team be successful; these are all examples of what can be found in making authentic affirmations a regular part of our practices at work.

At Fired Up Culture, our business is helping your team to grow and thrive.  Your success as a leader is our mission. Being a resource upon which you can call when challenges arise is the way we affirm your work.