Foster a Culture of Gratitude

April 23, 2013

By Christine Riordan Havard Business Review

In the movie Remember the Titans, Coach Herman Boone takes his high school football team to the battleground of Gettysburg. Having inherited a fractured and divided squad, Coach Boone implores the players to “take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together, right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were.” Coach Boone then establishes the primacy of an important team virtue: “I don’t care if you like each other right now, but you will respect each other.”

In every workplace and on every team, all people have the innate desire to feel appreciated and valued by others. Like Coach Boone, leaders of teams — and team members themselves — should work to foster a culture of value and appreciation.

High performing teams have well-defined goals, systems of accountability, clear roles and responsibilities, and open communication. Just as importantly, teams that foster cohesion with a sense of appreciation and gratitude among the team members maximize performance on a number of dimensions. Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, authors of the Wisdom of Teams, define a high-performing team in part by members’ strong personal commitment to the growth and success of each team member and of the team as a whole.

Research on gratitude and appreciation demonstrates that when employees feel valued, they have high job satisfaction, are willing to work longer hours, engage in productive relationships with co-workers and supervisors, are motivated to do their best, and work towards achieving the company’s goals. Google, which sits atop many best-places-to-work lists, fosters feelings of employee value through an open culture that promotes employee input, routinely rewards and recognizes performance, and encourages personal growth. In a recent interview, CEO Larry Page stated, “My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.”

Taking the time and effort to create a culture that values and appreciates the diversity and similarity within a team can reap great rewards in terms of performance and satisfaction of the entire team. At the end of the day, this principle is really very simple: we all want to feel valued and appreciated. So, in addition to overt recognition to employees, use a variety of ways to build a culture of gratitude.