The design-thinking approved way to tell your team you’re grateful for them

4 min read
Brittany Anas
  •  Nov 2, 2020
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Whether you say thank you for a job well done with a celebratory Slack emoji (:clapping:) or a praising email, expressing gratitude in the workplace is important. Not only does it boost the moods of those receiving the praise, the simple act can also help fuel your team’s productivity and innovation.

Thanksgiving gives us an annual prompt to express gratitude, but this year’s practice feels even weightier. How can you make sure you tell your team “thanks” in a meaningful way—and not just for this month, but for the excellent work they do year round? Just like with any complex conundrum, try harnessing the design-thinking process, says Eli Woolery, InVision’s director of design education.


Stage one of this design-approved approach to gratitude taps into your empathy muscle. You innately know that expressing genuine gratitude to your colleagues is a worthwhile experience. Receiving a thank you or a (virtual) pat on the back feels good, right? (And much, much better than hearing you messed up). You may even have felt more motivated to continue doing good work because of it.

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Well, that’s not just you. The data backs this up: A Gallup poll found that employees whose managers gave them feedback focused on their strengths were more engaged at work than those who only received feedback on their weaknesses

But, regretfully, these performance-improving moments are rare: A Zenger/Folkman survey found that 37% of managers don’t regularly give positive reinforcement.


So what problem needs defining? What roadblocks could be in the way of expressing gratitude if you know that it can create a better workplace, lead to better designs, and improve collaboration?

According to that Zenger/Folkman survey, many managers feel it’s their job to tell their direct reports bad news and correct them when they aren’t meeting expectations, but that taking time to provide positive feedback is optional.

Let’s reframe that thinking: Feedback doesn’t have to fall on a good/bad binary. You don’t need to sugarcoat your assessments, but it does mean honest, genuine compliments can go a long way in balancing out frank critiques.


Here comes the part that will probably excite designers: The ideation phase. How do we challenge the status quo, where good work is often going without praise?

Eli recommends identifying moments when thank you’s and recognition can slip through the cracks. After a product or an initiative launch, for instance, teams are often moving on to the next project. But it’s worth taking a step back, acknowledging your team’s accomplishments, and thanking them for the hard work they’ve done. Perhaps schedule a a virtual happy hour, which sets a different tone than, say, a postmortem.


In addition to saying thanks, being a good leader means listening to your team, Woolery says. For those who take a servant-style approach to leadership, expressing gratitude may also come in the form of removing roadblocks so that a team member feels empowered.

Of course, just like you need to empathize with your users, leaders should take time to understand their team members. How do they like to be thanked? Do they appreciate a public pat on the back at a team meeting or in a Slack channel? Or do they prefer to receive a more private direct message? The easiest way to find this out is to simply ask your colleagues.

Analyze again

Another tripping point in remembering to say thank you could be failing to define the difference between appreciation and gratitude. Appreciation happens when we acknowledge the goodness in life. But gratitude goes beyond that. It recognizes that the positive happenings in our lives—say, a successful product launch—occur partly because of forces outside ourselves. This kind of thinking and recognition can be countercultural in an environment that values competition over collaboration; where employees are gunning for promotions and trying to get ahead, and do so without acknowledging the reliance on their colleagues.

Changing this culture is difficult, but one way that InVision has empowered expressing gratitude is through a peer-to-peer bonus program. Each month, employees are given an allowance to award their colleagues cash bonuses or gift cards. Carving out regular time for shoutouts in meetings is another great way to consciously express gratitude, too.

The takeaway here? You can apply the same thought processes you use to build great products to create a culture of gratitude for your team. Your colleagues might even remember to thank you for the positive change.


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