Co-authored by Brandon Kozar, Katharine P. Stallard, and Michael Lee Stallard
Imagine you’re in a football stadium and it’s the final minutes of the game. Yard by yard, your team is progressing down the field. If they can score a field goal, the game will be tied; a touchdown will secure the win. With only seconds left on the clock, the quarterback throws a perfect pass to the back of the end zone. Surrounded by defensive players, the rookie wide receiver extends his arms up at just the right moment and pulls the ball in as he falls to the ground. The referees signal. Touchdown! As the excited player rises to his feet and turns around to celebrate with his teammates, all he sees is their backs as they slowly walk to the sidelines. He looks up into the stands at the thousands of fans, quietly sitting, motionless. Why aren’t his teammates jumping up and down with him? Where are the cheers from the fans? Why is there no recognition of what just took place? It is a bizarre image for sure and many of us would appropriately conclude that such a scenario is ludicrous. Yet something just like this happens every day in many work environments.
Most of us have an intuitive sense that celebrating success with others is not only fun but critical for bonding. It is the social reward for hard work, commitment, and success. We see this clearly with many of the sports teams we watch. Yet if the athletes and fans acted like many of us act in the workplace, watching the team score would be a peculiar experience.
One of the things I (Brandon) often ask work teams at Nationwide Children’s Hospital where I serve as Director of Leadership Coaching & Development and Director of the YOU Matter staff support program is: “When and how do you all celebrate as a group? Or put another way, how do you know you’ve scored a touchdown?” There is usually a long pause before they try to provide an answer.
Celebrating as a group is a key factor to sustaining a sense of camaraderie and support, especially during periods of adversity and hardship that many medical teams are experiencing at this very moment. Yet, when asked if they take time to celebrate, they rarely do. How can this be?
Sacrifice without celebration doesn’t work for social creatures, like us humans. Put another way, hardship without joy doesn’t motivate people in the long run.
What Constitutes a “Touchdown” at Work?
Closing a deal, bringing in a new client, hitting a sales mark, or launching a new product—these would be obvious “touchdowns” in a work environment. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, in our group, it is hard to know when we scored a touchdown or even a field goal around here.” That is certainly fair and true for many of you. But do you really need points to go up on the scoreboard—a clear event or obvious “win”—before you celebrate? After all, don’t we find ourselves cheering sometimes when our football team gets a first down or recovers a fumble? Given all of the uncertainty, change, and stress we’ve faced due to or exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, what if we decided to begin celebrating the simple fact of enduring struggle and adversity?
What if we decided to start celebrating what I (Brandon) like to call, “moments of resilience”? For my medical colleagues who are enduring the seemingly never-ending crisis of Covid-19, what if at the end of a grueling and draining week in which clinic volumes are through the roof, staffing is short, and breaks were non-existent, we stop and say something like: “Look at us. Kudos to all of you, kudos to me, kudos to us for getting through a tough week! What does it say about you? What does it say about us that despite all this adversity, all this struggle, here we still are, and we continue to come back and give it our best in the most trying and difficult of circumstances?”
What’s in Your Team’s Playbook?
For its social and “we’re in this together” aspects, it is easy to see how celebrating small moments as well as big moments is a best practice in a work culture that is rich in relational connection. But it’s more than that. Celebrating together conveys respect and recognition, reinforces belonging, and marks progress being made. These are critical factors when it comes to whether or not we feel a sense of connection to our colleagues and the work that we do.
Returning to our football analogy, what’s in your team’s playbook about what and when to celebrate? Consider these questions:
- How would you and your colleagues know you’ve scored a touchdown? Expand that out beyond the traditional measures of accomplishment. Being resilient enough to get through a difficult period is one answer.
- What constitutes getting a first down as you “move the chains” in the direction of the goal line? How do you currently recognize individuals, or the team as a whole, for making forward momentum? What else could you do?
- Look around at those on the field with you. How are they holding up? Is there a teammate who may feel a bit “battered and bruised” by work circumstances? Don’t neglect to cheer on your teammates in a way that will encourage them personally and motivate them to stay in the game with you. Sometimes it helps to hear even a simple message that communicates “I see you and I value you,” such as “This is hard period we’re in, isn’t it? Thanks for persevering. I really appreciate all of your effort.” You might consider sending a handwritten note.
The continued sacrifice that many of us are making this year, together, deserves to be recognized and celebrated. By celebrating moments of resilience, we help people stay connected to the team and persevere through the inevitable challenging seasons.
About the Authors
Brandon Kozar, PsyD, MBA, is a corporate psychologist. He serves as Director – Leadership Coaching & Development and Director – YOU Matter Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.
Katharine P. Stallard is a partner of Connection Culture Group and a contributing author to Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.
Michael Lee Stallard, MBA, JD, is a thought leader, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in workplace cultures affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. In addition to Fired Up or Burned Out, he is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.