When you're focusing on being more productive, producing better work, and motivating your team, it's easy to forget to celebrate successes along the way. The small wins, in particular, tend to go unnoticed unless we make a conscious effort to savor them.
But research shows celebrating hard—and often—can actually improve your team's performance and how well they work together.
Celebrating strengthens relationships
According to Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, how you celebrate success is more predictive of the strength of a relationship than how you fight when things aren't going well.
A 2012 study explains why the way you celebrate success is more important than how you handle tough times in a relationship. Looking at couples, the study found people whose spouses were supportive during good times believed they'd also be supportive when times were tough. The spouse didn't even have to prove their support during rough periods; just thinking their spouse would be supportive in hard times was enough. Those relationships scored better for emotional intimacy, trust, and relationship satisfaction.
Celebration has also been shown to improve relationships among sports teammates. Research shows the more convincingly a sports team celebrates their success together, the better their chances are of winning.
A 2010 study looked at this effect specifically among basketball teams. The study found the teams who touched each other most with congratulatory taps, fist bumps, hugs, pats, and high-fives also co-operated the most and won the most.
Celebrating hard and often improves your team's performance and how well they work together
Another study examined how celebratory behaviors in soccer teams correlated to which teams won more penalty shootouts. The study found that celebrations using both arms were most closely associated with winning shootouts. "It was more likely that the next kick taken by an opponent was missed after a player displayed these behaviours after a goal than when he did not," say the researchers, who attribute this finding to something called emotional contagion. Basically, the player's two-armed celebration is big enough to make the other players catch that enthusiasm. As a result, they all play better as a team.
So this is good news for everyone from friends and spouses to colleagues. Take some time to acknowledge good news among the team and celebrate success together—even making a big deal out of small wins could improve how well you work together.
Celebrating induces the progress principle
When it comes to productivity, it helps to feel good about your work. We all know how much easier it is to get things done when you're excited by what you're doing. Research shows that the best way to encourage these good feelings that lead to productivity is to make progress on meaningful work:
Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
According to studies, the more frequently people experience this feeling, the more productive they'll be long-term. This is known as the progress principle.
And again, small wins can work just as well as big ones. Celebrating minor milestones throughout the day or week can be enough to make your team feel like they're gaining momentum.
The only caveat to remember here is that the work must feel meaningful for the progress principle to work. So start by taking some time to help your team see how they're contributing to meaningful results, and follow that up by ensuring you celebrate each other's success.
Of all the things that can boost motivation, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
Celebrating can make us happier
While celebrating our success (and that of our teammates) can improve how we work together and how productive we are, it can also make us happier to share good news.
Research shows telling others about our own positive feelings can make us happier. But, even better, just thinking about telling someone your good news can make you feel happier, too.
Savoring is what social psychologist Fred Bryant calls the process of sharing and enjoying good news and positive feelings. It's another way of talking about celebrating success or positive events. And Bryant says it's something we should all be doing more of:
Savoring is the glue that bonds people together, and it is essential to prolonging relationships. People who savor together stay together.
Research also shows that when we outwardly express our good feelings, we tend to feel happier. This is because we're giving the brain evidence that something good has happened. The brain can take in and respond to the external signs of good news when we express ourselves outwardly, which serves to compound our initial good feelings.
Although all this research points back to the basic idea that celebrating success—even small wins—is beneficial, there's quite a bit to unpack within all that research.
For starters, simply sharing your good news or positive feelings with others can make you happier. That's an easy one to get started on.
Before you start encouraging your team to celebrate more often, however, remember to make sure they feel their work is meaningful. We love the feeling of making progress, but not if we think our work is a drag in the first place. Show your teammates the fruits of their labor and help them understand how they're contributing to something meaningful.
Once you're all invested in what you're doing, it's time to turn up the celebrations. Encourage your teammates to share even small wins with each other, and make the time and effort to celebrate those wins as a team.
And remember, the bigger your celebrations, the better the effect.