How to celebrate wins remotely?

September 1, 2020
Raphael Assaraf

We're all too familiar with the sales gong or the Nasdaq bell ringing ceremony. These staples of office culture, alerting the team when some big milestone is hit have shaped our collective consciousness. The bell ringing means victory.

Have you used the clap emoji on Zoom? It's cool, sure. It doesn't deliver quite the same magic feeling as getting the whole team to fire a round of applause during the all-hands, after the tech team has shipped a key feature.

Let's pause on the all-hands for a second. The origin of the term all-hands is likely to be the navy's all hands on deck, when everyone in the ship gathers together during a storm. How do you get all hands on deck when everyone's not in the same location, let alone timezone?

For many, the bell ring is becoming situational, if not obsolete. Yet having teams split across the globe, working in front of their computers all day has increased the need for alignement on a shared goal. And some aspects of the "work hard, play hard culture" might not fit the diversity of our current work environments. How, then, should companies celebrate win?

Group motivation

Studies of motivation date back to antiquity. Aristotle and Socrates already noted that Individuals actualize their behavior based on perceived gain or loss induced.

A strong team, with a clear mission and values, composed of driven individuals can probably do ok relying solely on each individual's motivation.

However, it'd be problematic to rely solely on each individual's motivation to build momentum as a group. Everyone has ups and downs. It's ok for someone not to be driven some day, as long as your team can put the extra mile when needed and have consistent delivery other time.

Great work culture supports individuals, and great leaders know that their purpose is to uplift their team. And let's face it, while you might be giving your all to your startup as a founder, employee incentives won't always be 100% aligned with yours.

Moments of celebration, competition, acknowledgement or adversity can boost team morale, solving natural inefficiencies and further enabling people who were already in a driven mindset. These moments can be difficult to crystalize while distributed.

Asynchronous celebration

Meetings, meetings, meetings... 😫

Google returns many good ressources for teams who want to celebrate or build motivation remotely. Most of the time though, it's about hosting a meeting.

HBR: How To Keep Your Team Motivated, Remotely (and spend 70% of your week in meetings)

Yes, we've all thought about this. Host a meeting to celebrate. Host a meeting to play games. Host a meeting to have a virtual party. Surely, this can work and remote meetings can actually be 100% awesome. The Travis Scott show in Fortnite was probably a very memorable moment of celebration for fans of the game and the signer. So can be your company's remote meetings.

Yet, it's not enough - you can do better.

Start by recording those meetings. People who couldn't participate will be able to review it, although FOMO for a virtual team meeting is probably much lower than for an in person gathering. They might be better off spending the 45 minutes doing something else. A good practice there is to use written format to recap what happened and share wins with everyone.

Share with the world, too, when relevant. Leveraging social media to build in public is a great way to create a sense of pride and get external validation for team efforts.

The workspace isn't just the office anymore

A mistake is to think it's only possible to celebrate when we're all together. We have asynchronous communication tools:

This is the workspace for knowledge workers. Coming to work means opening email or logging in our favorite collaboration tool.

Think of how you can leverage these channels to cheer up the team: share a milestone and react on Slack with emojis. Comment, record a loom video. Write a more thoughtful note about what happened and share your analysis with everyone. Encourage them to read and understand your thought process.

Over time, you'll build a sense of ownership and shared mindset in how the team interprets events. Encourage teammates to take the leap and share a note, analysis, video about something cool that happened to them or their team.

Fostering serendipity

Picture a company where employees get shoutouts at the end of the week. You get a shoutout about your work. It's public acknowledgement, and that might be what you need. But it'll mostly appeal to status.

Now, what if the CEO just passes by one day and tells you, out of the blue, that you're doing great? Provided you respect her, wouldn't this create a very vivid memory? Serendipitous encouragements from figures of authority just stick.

It's not just about the all-hands where everyone applauds a shared goal. These little moments can also be instrumental to celebrating wins and building everyone's confidence.

As a leader, take the time to review contributions made by everyone, and highlight success at every level of the company.

In the heat of building towards ambitious goals, it's easy to miss this. Companies need a system to surface individual achievements.

When automation = authenticity

Technology can be a helper for honest and authentic behavior. As a CEO of a 100 person company, you might not wake up knowing what a developer shipped at the other end of the continent, or that a sales rep stayed late and closed a deal that made them beat their target last night.

Work happens in tools. With the correct setup and processes, progress can be tracked and success can be highlighted.

Avoid the notification trap thought. The notification trap is when you are consistently pinged about small events that happen. A signup, a new client. Pebbles. While it can be good to take action at a narrow level, it's not possible to scale knowing what everyone just produced in real time.

That's where goals matter. If you have key business objectives to hit, then you'll know when it's relevant to share progress.

Of course we'll do an exception when you @here to announce the biggest deal ever, or the most amazing feature you've ever shipped. But as a general rule, focus on signal. Follow trends, milestones not isolated happenstances.

Knowing what, why and when to celebrate

At the end of the day, what matters is clarity and alignement on shared goals. Then transparency in how the team is faring against them.

If you are not able to know what your team should celebrate, or to help each individual define clear objectives on how they can contribute to the broader goal, you're likely to hit a wall. 

Everyone has their rituals and secret sauce for this internally, and maybe you have something truly unique. As a general rule however, consistency is key. You can't go wrong with a cadence that reports at a given time of the week. People will expect it, and get excited about what will be announced. It'll make random occasions layered on top even more unique.

As of the why, think of your values. If they include growth, then of course, celebrating an increase in revenue is a no-brainer. This can apply to more specific goals too. If your values are people or customer oriented, track events that matter from that perspective. Product adoption, hiring or promotions for instance.

So remember: define key goals at each level and share progress consistently. Build a system that supports both synchronous and asynchronous celebration and is inclusive to everyone. Do this by both surfacing wins bottom-up, and sharing goals from the top to the whole org.

Then, when you get everyone to gather together, don't forget to clap, party a little or ring the bell. That'll still work.

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