Power of Appreciation on Product Teams

Monish SubherwalDesign LeadershipLeave a Comment

At Yahoo, I used to be in the Burbank office and fly up to Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale) weekly for team projects.  I recall walking through the halls and people’s faces lighting up when they met me (and vice versa).  They greeted me like greeting an old friend, a familiar face.  I would shake people’s hands and they would ask me how I was doing and I, in turn, would ask the same.

This simple gesture makes a person feel special.  I call this the “appreciation dance” and the power came from someone spending a little extra time to acknowledge your presence and value.

Of course, there are people who you just say ‘hi’ to – but the ones you spend that extra time in the “appreciation dance” you build bonds with.

Why Does Appreciation Matter?

Feeling appreciated helps build relationships.  We feel a part of the tribe and feel respected for who we are and what we can offer.  Appreciation can even validate the value we bring.  We feel useful and that usefulness gives us energy to do more good work.

When we don’t feel appreciated for our time, efforts, and ideas – we lose trust and respect for others, and the relationship breaks down.  A lot of attrition is due to people not feeling appreciated at work by their managers.

Appreciation is like air in tech companies.  It’s critical to living and working.  However, when we have it, we can forget it exists and take it for granted.  But when we don’t have it, we ABSOLUTELY notice it. 

Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve seen a few things in my years in technology – things that work and don’t work.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

Email Communication

DO:  CC the right people who need the right information.

Leaving someone out of email communication creates mistrust since information isn’t shared openly.  A person can wonder why you left them out (if it was intentional or not) or can just make the person feel undervalued and not want to be a part of the team in the future.

If you do accidentally leave someone out, add them back in – and apologize for the mistake.  The apology can be done privately (separate email) or publicly (which I prefer since it saves the person’ face for the entire group).

DON’T:  Be exclusive.

Find out who is on your team.  In the spirit of agile, product manager, designer, and developer should be the core team absolutely.  The rule of thumb I follow:  anyone who helps contribute to the success of the project and deserves to be on a patent for the project, should be absolutely included.  Others who don’t fit this rule, can be included, but you shouldn’t worry about so much.

Out of Town Team Members

DO:  Spend extra time introducing people to each other.

There was once a person who was helping on one of my projects visiting from out of town.  He was not collocated and had worked with some of the team members on the phone.  When we arrived he had a busy schedule – however, I made an extra effort to introduce him to other people on the team who knew about him, but had not put a name to the face.  Walking him over to the team and introducing him – made his day.

DON’T:  Be lazy.

A simple introduction takes less than a minute but helps build relationships incredibly.

Group Demonstrations

DO:  Thank everyone who helped make your output possible.

When you are presenting your work, be sure to thank people who contributed to your work output.

DON’T:  Skim over all the people who helped you.

I recall someone who was demonstrating our product in front of the entire department.  Toward the end, he ended up thanking the product team specifically — but didn’t spend any time on thanking the design team.

Recognition by Awards

DO:  Award your team.  

There is one time in my career, where I recall getting recognized through some sort of “award.”  I recall this vividly because it was such a special exception (most of the times, I would only get recognized at quarterly reviews).

I was given an ipod shuffle at a group dinner along with the entire team.  It made me feel incredibly special to be wined and dined for my work – particularly because this had never happened before.  The extra effort and thoughtfulness was appreciated.

DON’T:    Leave people out who were vital to the project.

While the gesture was really nice – I have no clue why one of our early team members was left out of the award.  She was a vital part of the project and I felt she was slighted by not being invited.

Recognition by Responsibility

Do:  Give more managerial work to the person who deserves it.

In a healthy relationship between manager and employee, more responsibility given by your boss can mean he/she trusts you.  They are trusting you can deliver and are relying on you to shoulder some of their weight.

At one of my past companies, I was asked by my boss to be the “team representation at our office” and facilitate design bug triage.  This made me feel like a hero and seemed like a step forward since I had talks with him about managerial aspirations.

Don’t:  Forget to give a title.

Give responsibility that affects many people without an appropriate title backing, is like giving a person a cop car who hasn’t been knighted a cop.

While my boss had given me group responsibility – he gave me NO TITLE and thus, ZERO enforcement ability.  The result, the rest of the team felt awkward and insecure about their positions.

Your Thoughts on Appreciation?

What do you think works and doesn’t work?  Leave a message below!

 

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