We’ve Been Fact Checked (and We Were Right!)

November 1, 2021 9:00 am Published by

HBR reports research demonstrating appreciation improves productivity

The Harvard Business Review recently published an intriguing article, “5 Things High-Performing Teams Do Differently” based on research findings by Dr. Ron Friedman.  

“New research suggests that the highest-performing teams have found subtle ways of leveraging social connections during the pandemic to fuel their success. The findings offer important clues on ways any organization can foster greater connectedness — even within a remote or hybrid work setting — to engineer higher-performing teams.”

And (surprise!) three of the five key characteristic actions they cited are core principles we teach in our Appreciation at Work training:

  • High-performing teams give and receive appreciation more frequently.
  • High-performing teams invest time in bonding over non-work topics.
  • High-performing teams are more authentic at work.

I believe our culture sometimes over-emphasizes the need to confirm everything through research. Some truths and guiding principles are self-evident when we take the time to observe, reflect and use common sense. The importance (and value) of appreciation falls in this category.

Unfortunately, many business and organizational leaders still hold the misconception that the primary purpose of communicating appreciation to colleagues is to make people feel good. Wrong. While helping someone feel more positive about themselves and the work they do is a result when someone receives authentic appreciation, the larger, accompanying goal (which is supported by a huge body of research) is to help the organization function more effectively.

As Friedman and other researchers have found, when team members feel truly valued and appreciated, good results follow. Productivity improves, profitability increases, customer service ratings rise, staff turnover declines, and much more (over 50 research citations are provided in our book).

If we take the time to think about it, it’s easy to see why this is the case. Let’s lay the foundational principles down:

  • Employees are people.
  • We are social beings.
  • To get tasks done, communication between team members is required.
  • Communication goes better when trust exists (and the need to defend oneself is minimized).
  • People have social and emotional needs.
  • When our needs (social, emotional, physical, or other) are met, we are able to focus our time and energy on other aspects of our life. 
  • When they are not met, the unmet needs become a distraction and detractor to getting tasks done.
  • When people don’t feel valued and appreciated, they:

            -feel insecure and are more likely to communicate from a defensive position

            -feel a need to “prove” themselves and their value

            -are more likely to compete with colleagues, rather than work together collaboratively

            -are more irritable and easily offended.

Leaders listen up. The point is this: If you still are holding onto the belief that teaching your team how to communicate authentic appreciation is touchy-feely psychobabble – pull your head out of the sand. If you don’t, you and your organization will be left in the dust by those organizations who accept the reality that teams who communicate appreciation to one another outperform those who don’t. And taking the steps necessary to make this a reality in your organization will make you more successful.

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November 1, 2021 9:00 am


  • Fanny says:

    Thanks for highlighting this! I believe we need both. We need to hear stories, experience things ourselves, observe and use our common sense. But the most obvious to some can be the least obvious to others. So we also need math and researches to explain those.

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