celebrate small victories

American football season is here again! It seems like just yesterday that I, a New Orleans Saints fan, lost a bet and had to wear a Dallas Cowboys shirt when they made it to the playoffs.

After all these years of watching the game, the language of it has crept into my everyday vernacular. The strategy of the game has crept its way into how I think about things and how I do things at work. I have been known to find a football analogy for just about anything.

But my favorite analogy is one that builds teams, motivates individuals (and teams), and serves as a good compass. You might say it serves as a page in my playbook. See what I did there?

First downs are a big deal in football. They are small victories on the way to the goal: the touchdown. Without them, the game might even be less interesting. Everyone has heard that we should celebrate small victories in projects, but have you seen the way football players celebrate a first down? What if we celebrated small victories on projects like that? Happy dances, anyone?

I recommend what I call “First Down Friday.” I implemented this previously, and it was a successful way to keep the team motivated and in better spirits during a very long, arduous project. Every Friday morning I sent out an email (subject line: First Down Friday!), and I asked the team for their victories and small wins from the week. It was great to see all the emails that followed: lots of kudos, celebrations, and virtual happy dances.

And there’s research to back this up. Teresa Amabile, Edsel Bryant Ford professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, calls them “small wins.” Amabile has been conducting studies to hone in on the work environments that yield “creative, productive performance.”

She coins the phrase “inner work life”—that’s the feeling that you have about work, and whether you are intrinsically motivated to perform well. Turns out that how you feel at work one day can actually impact how you perform the very next day!

One of key contributors to a positive inner work life? What Amabile calls “nourishers”—just like my First Down Fridays, they are words of encouragement and recognition. Think about how you feel when you are recognized for a job well done. Do you wake up the next morning energized and ready to do your best?

It’s tempting to wait until a project is complete and then send a huge shoutout to everyone on the team. Of course, that kind of recognition is great as well, but it’s also important to acknowledge the small milestones and accomplishments.

Turn them into small, brief celebrations. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy!

What do you do to celebrate small milestones or accomplishments?

Reference: Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, “The Power of Small Wins,” Harvard Business Review, May 2011, https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins/.