Constructive Praise:
The Secret of High-Performance Teams

See also: Effective Team-Working Skills

Some people see successful teams and wonder about what secret strategies they are using to outpace their contemporaries and consistently break new ground.

While there are usually a combination of factors at play in any high performance collective, one of the most often overlooked aspects that serves to glue teams together is constructive praise.

So, what is constructive praise, how can it be delivered effectively, and what are the advantages that it offers to the teams and organizations that use it?

Businessmen fist-bumping.

The Problem with Criticism

The traditional approach of attempting to improve employee performance through constructive criticism has been used for decades at this point, but there are a few reasons why it is not necessarily a tactic that works that well.

The first issue is that saying anything negative to team members is a stress-inducing and tricky prospect for a large proportion of managers. The awkwardness is enough to stifle many leaders and stop them giving feedback of any kind, positive or negative.

Of course, not saying anything at all is far from ideal, because while employees may not respond well to criticism, they will be equally disheartened if they receive no input from people higher up the pecking order. Reticence over feedback can imply dissatisfaction with performance, whether or not managers intend this.

The perks of praise

Providing employees with feedback that is built upon recognizing their strengths and vocalizing positive responses to their performance can work well from a host of perspectives.

Research has shown that when managers praise employees, this will boost engagement levels significantly. This can lead to better performance, higher productivity and greater retention rates, which are obviously desirable for the organization as a whole.

In fact, positivity has been identified as directly associated with high-performing teams and individuals alike.

It is all about reinforcing the strengths that team members show in their work by singling them out for recognition, so that individuals can understand exactly what it is that they are doing right, and focus on capitalizing on these key capabilities going forwards.

So whereas constructive criticism would mean shining a spotlight on weaknesses, in a way that might cause sleepless nights for managers and team members alike, constructive praise does the opposite. It de-emphasizes these faults and prioritizes the idea that every employee should let their strengths lead them forwards.

The Challenges of Being Positive

While you may now appreciate that constructive praise is an impactful tactic that can bolster team performance, the next step to take is to actually implement this as a policy within your own organization.

This may involve overcoming misconceptions and prejudices about the process of praising people in the workplace, as there are certainly people out there who think that being overly supportive of workers is condescending or even a weakness in its own right.

You also need to test out the many different ways of giving feedback to colleagues that actually highlight achievements worth celebrating, rather than feeling arbitrary or disingenuous. This can be complex, especially if you are new to the idea of constructive praise, but it will be worth it in the long run.

For example, if an individual has acquired a fresh skill that they can put to use in their role, you should not only praise this fact in isolation, but also identify an example of where they have deployed their training to great effect in the line of duty. Whether this might be harnessing a piece of software to improve productivity, using conflict resolution training to iron over an inter-office issue, or winning a client thanks to completing a sales course, it is necessary to be specific. This is the only way to ensure that your positive comments actually shape behavior and performance permanently, rather than the praise being too broad to really stick in the mind of the recipient.

The benefits of providing clarity

Constructive praise is not just about reinforcing the skills and strengths that employees bring to the table, but also about steering their behavior in the working environment in a way that aligns them with the values of the organization and the aims of the team in a subtle yet effective way.

For example, if a team member speaks up in a meeting and raises questions about a particular aspect of a product or project that they are involved with, this could be worth referencing later in a positive light. Indicating that you valued their candor and confidence in this context will show that you value their input, and also give them a signal that they should behave similarly in the future whenever they have a point to make.

Failing to praise them for this, on the other hand, might suggest that their comments were out of line, and they may clam up during subsequent meetings, which could compromise the performance of the team as a whole and even stifle innovative and creative thought.

The power of the personal

In the past, leadership was often seen as something which should be conducted in an almost detached, impersonal way, to ensure that the distinction between boss and subordinate was always clear and ultimately indelible.

This is actually a fairly ineffectual way of managing people, as teams that are led by managers who work closely with all members and provide that all-important personal touch in everything they do tend to be much more successful.

Constructive praise should also be seen through this lens, as the emotional connection that is created when two people converse one-to-one, rather than through a medium like email, can convey much more meaning and hold greater significance. Facial expressions and tone of voice can imbue positive statements with greater import and have a longer lasting impact, so whether you deliver praise in person or via video call, going the extra mile is definitely worthwhile.

You should have many tricks up your sleeve to bring your team together and overhaul performance, but hopefully constructive praise will now be something you put higher up the agenda.

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About the Author

Cristina Par is a content specialist with a passion for writing articles that bridge the gap between brands and their audiences. She believes that high-quality content plus the right link building strategies can turn the tables for businesses small and large.