Showing gratitude for your team is a proven way help their well-being and build confidence and trust. At Leadfully we’ve written about the different ways to master gratitude and get into the habit of being positive. Criticism and negativity can do active harm to morale and slow down productivity, but beyond that, it can cause you to overlook the things that work well, which is just as important to your overall success.
Gratitude is important. But expressing it randomly can do more harm than good if you end up favoring one employee over others, or forget to find the right balance between constructive criticism and praise. Making it formal might sound stuffy, but it doesn’t have to be: An optimism breakfast is just a simple, fun way to highlight the good work people are doing and get everyone’s day or week started with an endorphin boost.
Criticism can make the brain less prone to taking risks. Praise for a good idea or the right attitude will reinforce the positive work habits that led someone to those bright decisions, and what better venue for praise than a morning meeting over bagels and coffee?
Start Your Meeting With Shout-Outs
At your optimism breakfast (think of it as a slightly rebranded team meeting), tell your co-workers how gratitude increases happiness and brain function. Encourage everyone to come with some kind of verbal acknowledgement of someone else’s good work; make sure everyone gets at least one compliment, maybe by having a few of your own locked and loaded in case someone’s getting too much attention.
Every single shout-out isn’t just a compliment—it’s a suggestion for something your team can replicate and build upon. The more specific the praise, the better, even if it’s just for little stuff like always remembering to replace the coffee filters. As everyone’s boosting each other up, write down these best practices on a board for everyone to see, so they don’t just feel like empty accolades.
Repetition Is Key
If your optimism breakfast happens just once in a while, the whole exercise could feel a little perfunctory. But if you keep it up, say once a month, then there will always be more things to think about—and more details to pick up on. Specific ways someone handled a detail on a new project, or maintains their workspace, or used a unique talent: The more opportunities you give your team members to think of them, the more interesting stuff is going to bubble to the surface.
Only One Rule
The best thing about an optimism breakfast (aside from the food) is that it’s free-form. You don’t need to come in with PowerPoint presentations or sheets of paper, and you don’t need to take acres of notes. Just churn up a ton of good ideas and imitable practices for everyone else to think about, and just remember to be nice to each other and avoid negativity.
Optimism: The Key to Every Lock
Optimism reduces stress and promotes the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Molecular biologist and professor John Medina, who writes about neural development and the best way to stay vital through mental exercises, calls dopamine a ignition key that can instantly get your brain firing again. “Insert the key into the lock, and the car springs to life,” he says. “Dopamine packs a serious wallop.”
If your optimism breakfast is a success and you want to build on it, or if it feels like you need more structure to your gratitude exercise, Medina has some suggestions for how to make it a little more formal without feeling forced in his book Brain Rules for Aging Well.
Make a Gratitude Visit
This is like a one-on-one version of the optimism breakfast—think of it as an employee review, except this time you’re writing a rave review. Sit your team member down and talk to them about their best influences on your work, or on their co-workers; make it even more formal if you like by writing it down in bullet points or a short paragraph. This kind of positivity boost can last for an entire month and lead to a serious uptick in productivity.
The “Three Good Things” Trick
Also like the optimism breakfast, but this time at the end of the day—kind of a “final thought” for everyone as they go home. As the work day winds down, think of three positive things that happened during the day and put them up on a whiteboard for people to see as they leave the office. The neural effect of an exercise like this is more subtle at first, but if you reinforce it every day, it can reduce depressive symptoms and point people towards the good work you want them to do.
Find Everyone’s Superpower
We’ve written about superpower stories before; everyone has their own superpower, it’s up to you to find out about it and amplify it. Knowing someone’s best skill is the easiest way to be a good leader, since you can point them in the right directions on every project. Shouting those superpowers out is a good way to promote smart work in the future. One way for a team to draw on those strengths is to have people identify each other’s superpowers—a good way to promote team-building and individual strengths.
A PechaKucha is a short slideshow format in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each; it’s a fast-paced way to sum something up in a strict, but fun, arrangement. Optimism and gratitude extends beyond the office, into our home lives, our families and friends, and the spaces we occupy outside of work.
As a special addendum to your breakfast, each time you can have one team member deliver a PechaKucha about themselves, with the restriction that every picture needs to be about their life outside the office. It’s the best kind of brag, one that everyone can do in their own unique way. Having everyone else know and understand each other’s lives outside of work is a great way to increase their sense of belonging, and connect who they are as individuals with their co-workers. That’s the best kind of optimism.