Team leaders all want their teams to perform better. Yet, in our swiftly changing work environment, traditional methods such as goal setting, feedback, and consistent employee and team check-ins often fail to meet performance improvement aspirations. Research from recent decades has shown that team leaders can dramatically improve performance, employee engagement, and wellbeing by emphasizing positive aspects and capitalizing on team members’ strengths—a finding corroborated by my own experiences with leaders across various levels, industries, and geographies. However, a significant challenge remains – determining the most effective strategies to cultivate a positive team environment. Here are five proven strategies that can fundamentally transform team performance and engagement:

Share successes

Start team meetings by inviting members to share their recent successes and the insights they’ve gained from progress toward their goals. This sets a positive tone and establishes a norm of celebrating progress and learning. When team members hear about the accomplishments of their peers and see them celebrated, it motivates them to strive harder for their own successes. Celebrating achievements can also enhance morale, confidence, and a strong sense of team unity. It creates moments of joy and pride that reinforce a sense of progress and a virtuous cycle of shared learning, motivation, and success. This enhances overall productivity, positivity and problem-solving in the workplace.

Amplify strengths

The best leaders excel at unlocking people’s potential, often helping them achieve what seemed impossible. This begins with fostering self-awareness of their natural talents and exploring ways to enhance and utilize these talents to meet their goals. Research, alongside our extensive experience, reveals that many individuals are unaware of their full potential, largely due to an emphasis on deficits and weaknesses in education, workplaces, and society. By employing a scientifically validated tool like TalentPredix, leaders can assist employees in identifying and maximizing their strengths. When leaders consistently highlight and nurture these talents, and empower individuals to leverage them, increases in productivity, retention, and motivation inevitably follow.

Promote deeper connections

Leaders can foster positive emotions such as happiness, fulfilment, fun, and a sense of belonging by promoting deeper connections and a strong team identity. This can be achieved by encouraging team members to collaborate on projects and tasks, allowing them to build trust and get to know each other better. Additionally, there are other straightforward yet impactful methods to enhance connections and foster positive emotions, including:

  • Celebrate birthdays and cultural heritage: I often find it surprising how many team leaders do not keep track of their team members’ birthdays or celebrate these special occasions when I ask them about this during leadership development programs. Acknowledging birthdays is a simple yet profound way to cultivate a supportive and caring workplace culture. It not only humanizes the workplace but also demonstrates that leaders value their team members as individuals, not just as employees. Additionally, embracing cultural diversity is crucial. Encourage team members to share their cultural backgrounds and traditions. For instance, managing a culturally diverse team provides an opportunity to host events like an international cook-off, where team members can bring or share recipes of traditional dishes from their countries. These cultural exchanges foster a more inclusive and curious team environment where diversity is embraced and celebrated.
  • Prioritize team building and social activities: Engaging in team-building activities, retreats, and social events that are enjoyable and inclusive can significantly enhance interpersonal relationships within the team. These activities help break down barriers, build trust, and create a more relaxed, collaborative atmosphere. To increase engagement and ownership, consider involving team members in the planning process, allowing them to propose ideas for events that everyone will enjoy. Remember, social activities are equally important in virtual or hybrid teams and may require extra creativity to ensure inclusivity and engagement.
  • Engage in community service: Providing opportunities for team members to volunteer together can greatly strengthen bonds as they work outside their regular tasks to contribute positively to a chosen cause. Community service can also foster new skills, reinvigorate the team, and enhance a sense of fulfilment and wellbeing, particularly during stressful times. Options are plentiful and can range from environmental cleanups and fundraising to participating in charity runs. These activities not only bring team members closer but also reflect positively on your organization’s commitment to social responsibility.

Acknowledge and recognize good work  

Workplace recognition is one of the most underutilized performance tools among team leaders. Tailored recognition not only motivates employees and fosters positive progress, but also makes them feel appreciated for their contributions. According to Gallup, employees who feel underappreciated are twice as likely to consider quitting within the next year. Recognizing employees’ efforts and achievements doesn’t have to be expensive. Cost-effective methods include verbal praise, emails, or handwritten “thank you” cards; vouchers for meals, events, or online shopping; public acknowledgment through awards, certificates, or commendations; offering extra days off, like a long weekend; or assigning special projects that align with their interests.

Empower people and establish safe communication channels

Enabling people to make decisions about their work, ways of working and opportunities for improvement promotes a sense of ownership, creativity problem-solving and stronger morale. This leads to higher employee engagement, effort, and performance. However, to produce these positive results, empowerment must be accompanied by an open and safe environment, where people feel they can speak up, express concerns, and offer suggestions in a positive atmosphere without fear of negative repercussions or blowback.

When leaders commit to strategies that foster happiness and positive emotions, they significantly enhance commitment, collaboration, and productivity. Leaders who focus on positivity are more likely to develop highly motivated, peak-performing teams and attract and retain top talent. This creates a virtuous cycle of success, propelling teams to continually reach higher levels of performance. In today’s dynamic and challenging environment, positive leadership offers a substantial and lasting competitive advantage.

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About the Author

James is a leadership and talent consultant, business psychologist, and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talent, performance, and future success.

Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Since moving into talent consulting and assessment design, he has supported leaders and teams globally across many sectors and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP and Yahoo! James has founded and run several ventures, including Strengthscope®, an international strengths assessment and development business, that he sold in 2018.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.