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Motivate Your Engineering Team by Creating a Culture of “Celebrating Success”

Engineering management is a difficult job. There’s a lot to stay on top of, and it’s typical for major responsibilities such as hiring, setting deadlines, and scaling to take up almost all your mental energy. There are times when it feels as if your team is treading water, never quite catching up.

Once you get stuck in that negative cycle, it can be hard to break out of it. Late tasks turn into missed deadlines, underestimations turn into blown sprints, and nobody is happy. There are few things worse than working hard all day, only to leave feeling as if you haven’t done a good job!

However, it’s been shown time and time again that positive work cultures are more productive. One technique you can use to keep your development team motivated and engaged is being intentional about validating their hard work, even when things aren’t going well and spirits are low. I call this practice “celebrating success.

You can celebrate your team’s success in public or in private, and it can be anything from a high five to a congratulatory announcement to the company. Here are a number of methods you can use to create a culture of celebrating success on your team.

Find the “Wins”

It’s no small miracle for a development team to estimate tasks accurately, write clean code, and collaborate to deliver a cohesive product week after week. This run-of-the-mill dev work may not seem noteworthy, but if you look closely, you’ll find lots of “wins” that you can draw attention to. Everyone, no matter how experienced or jaded, appreciates being noticed and getting kudos.

Reinforce Good Behavior

Start by celebrating team members who go above and beyond in some way. If you see someone mediate a dispute or resolve a tough argument in your company chat, shoot them a private message thanking them. If a developer cranks through a bunch of code reviews or takes on extra work in a sprint, give them a shout-out at the next stand-up.

It doesn’t have to feel cheesy or forced. You can say something simple, such as “I’d like to recognize Sarah for the great work she did helping ship the app update last night.” Sarah’s team members will notice this, and she will feel good knowing that you’re paying attention and that her hard work is appreciated.

Celebrate Everyone

It’s especially important to recognize the contributions of new team members and junior developers. Major product releases and disaster recoveries are certainly impressive, but not everyone on your team operates at the same level. Maybe Dave finished his first feature or fixed his first bug. Let him know his work is valued by thanking him in front of his coworkers. Similarly, take care not to forget to recognize team members working on more behind-the-scenes but equally important areas like dev-ops, refactoring, testing, and QA. Don’t let customer-facing product work get all the credit!

Encourage Public Recognition

If you want to celebrate success on your team in front of a broader audience, how about suggesting they give a short demo to the company at the beginning of all-hands or during lunch? Their co-workers will get an intimate look at what they’ve been spending their time on and will have an opportunity to ask questions about your team that might not feel appropriate otherwise.

A little added pressure to perform (and show off) in front of the company may give your developers the extra push they need to finish a prototype they’re working on, and the sense of ownership almost always results in a better product.

Celebrating success has a twofold effect. First, your team will feel confident knowing their hard work isn’t being ignored and they may feel more incentive to push themselves and take more ownership. Second, you may start to notice your team celebrating each other’s successes more often.

As a manager, your actions and attitudes tend to give “permission” to your team to behave in certain ways. By intentionally creating a culture that celebrates success, you can build a more positive work environment and motivate your developers to go above and beyond!