Why do some teams seem to perpetually stay motivated while others fall flat? You probably know the answer if you search deep down. You’ve likely worked for leaders who are great at keeping their teams motivated and for others whose teams have no energy at all.

Celebrate Small Milestones
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So what is the secret to their success? That’s what one coaching client recently wanted to know.
“Matt, my team is on the edge of burnout,” a coaching client said to me recently. “We continue to grow, but the pace has slowed down. Two years ago, everyone was so full of energy. Now it just seems like everyone is going through the motions.”

As I probed into the company’s background, the client revealed something important. I already knew a lot from earlier sessions. The company was three years old, had grown from a one-man show (my client) to a 14-person team. Last year, they passed the $5,000,000 mark in sales, with almost $750,000 in profit. The growth is incredible to say the least.

The problem

But it was during this conversation that a glaring problem came to light. He mentioned how they had won awards, been featured in the news, and how they had passed one important milestone after another. Their first $10,000 order. Their first $50,000 order. Their first on-site warehouse. Their first international order. Their first this, their first that. They had a string of firsts and a huge list of milestones they hit.
“Did you celebrate any of those?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “When we hit the $5,000,000 mark for the year last December, we had a big party and gave the team the rest of the year off paid.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Sounds like a big reward for a big goal. But how about small rewards for small goals?”

Celebrating the small milestones

I’ve chronicled my failures as a leader in numerous posts (here, here, and here for examples), but one team member who worked for me years ago explained why I was still somewhat effective:

I’ve never worked for a leader who celebrated small victories as well as you do. I’ve never worked for anyone who made even the smallest accomplishments feel so valued.

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I was young and not yet jaded by corporate reality, so when a new piece of code that saved us five minutes a day in reporting time rolled out, I would run into the programmers’ space cheering. High fives would ensue. We’d buy them lunch.
When someone worked a long weekend to finish a project, they’d get an X-Box or 50-yard line tickets to an NFL game. I was known for loud celebrations that resonated through the office hallways, often for the smallest of achievements.
I remember vividly staying up late into the night with our CEO and CFO when we were still a five-person operation to see if we would hit our first big milestone: $1,000 in sales for one day. We refreshed our stats page so often, I was afraid we’d crash our server, but we pulled it off. At 11:44 that night, we passed the $1,000 mark. I cranked up some K.C. and the Sunshine Band…celebrate good times, come on! I danced. I sang. I woke up the next day more energized than I had been in weeks.
That one milestone…no, that one celebration kept me going for weeks.

The monotony of success

I don’t remember hitting the $50,000 mark in sales. Or even the $25,000 mark. I don’t remember hiring our 50th person or countless other small milestones.
Somewhere along the road of our success, we forgot to celebrate the small milestones. We fell into the monotony of success. We moved from one achievement to the next until one day the momentum stopped.
That’s what was happening to my client. His team never took the time to celebrate the small milestones. They never stopped to acknowledge all that went into each small step in the larger journey.
People grew tired, never being re-energized by celebration. Soon, small milestones took on no significance. Goals were met, quotas hit, awards won, and the question was always “what’s next?”
“There is nothing wrong with continuing to move forward, with wanting to constantly achieve more,” I told him. “But your team needs to enjoy the milestones. They need to celebrate as a team. They need to be rewarded. Celebration is invigorating.”

Action item: Resolve today to celebrate small milestones. Whatever they are, take the time to celebrate. It might be a lunch out or just a little dance by yourself, but make sure to take the time to reward and re-energize yourself through celebration.

This client is on his way to becoming a more inspiring leader. His new mantra is “Celebrate Big. Celebrate Small. Celebrate Often.”
I encourage you to do the same.
What small milestone can you celebrate today? What is one you’ve celebrated recently?
How have you found life to be when you have followed your ‘thing’?

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13 thoughts on “Why Some Teams Stay Motivated While Others Crash and Burn

  1. Great post! People are so quick on celebrating only the big things but it’s the small things that end up being big. Another one is to say thank you often. There should be a 10 Thank You rule for every complaint ratio. In my experience leaders in general are quick on pointing out every little flaw but seldom show any appreciation for the other 98% that goes right.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said Camilla! The actual ratio is 2.9013. Seriously. 🙂
      I am going to write about it in the future, but it’s called the Losada Ratio. It says team members need at least 2.9013 “attaboys” for every negative critique. Then again, the research also says you might as well exceed that number. I agree with that.
      6-12 compliments for every critique is a good rule of thumb.

  2. Steve Pate says:

    The one I can celebrate today, are two, our first newsletter(for Family Lines) has been written by my beautiful bride and as for Pate’s Scapes, my first water feature in the state of Washington has gone in!!! It might be small but it’s powerful steps.
    As for one coming up, after this weekend, I will have logged 100 river miles in white water training.
    As for our current place in life, that is our biggest mistake as a team, not celebrating enough together, we work to damn hard not to celebrate.
    Great Post Matt

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      WOOHOO! Those are both awesome Steve.
      You should take Mendy out to celebrate and say thank you. Seriously. I will ask if you did when we talk next. 🙂

      1. Steve Pate says:

        Luckily it is her Birthday on Monday!! Another reason for celebration.

  3. David Mike says:

    It is hard to stay motivated when your only interaction with supervision is what you have been doing wrong. No wins are celebrated with the exception of at the end of the year. Trying to cultivate a positive environment from within has been a challenge. It works sometimes but it’s like running up a sandy hill.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said! When the only thing you hear is criticism, what’s the point in trying to do right?

  4. Zechariah Newman says:

    Great post I just wrote on this yesterday, must be in the air to have a party:) My wife and I went away for a night to celebrate my first book on Amazon! It is so important to enjoy the journey. There will always be another goal and target.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      When was that Zechariah? Feel free to share that link here.

      1. Zechariah Newman says:

        Thanks Matt. Here it is http://zechariahnewman.com/products/ Dreams That Last. It came out in late January. BTW I decided to write a new guest post for you, so I will send that to you soon;)

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        Very cool. Look forward to it!

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    Fantastic reminder, Matt. The Thank You Revolution is definitely part of my opportunity to celebrate the small milestones along the way. At least once a week, I’m celebrating someone’s accomplishments and contributions.

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