Recognition Within Teams – What a Stuffed Elephant Taught Us About Acknowledgement

Just over two years ago, Atomic introduced an employee recognition program. Within this program, Atoms can acknowledge and applaud the hard work of their colleagues by awarding them with a “Proton” that signifies one of our six value mantras.

This program has been great for company-wide recognition of the notable exemplifications of our values, but what about the everyday “above and beyond” contributions that often go unrecognized? Why not take it one step further and honor the hard work of someone on your team every day?

That is exactly what a few Atomic teams have started to do.

On my current project, the wonderful Kimberly Crawford introduced a new team process. Every day, as part of our team’s daily standup meeting, one person is awarded “Stafford,” a little plush elephant, for the day, to recognize something they did well on the project.

This reward can be earned for anything from, “Thank you for pairing with me yesterday on feature X. Your insight brought clarity and simplicity,” to, “You shared the pain and did Thing Y that I didn’t want to do,” to, “The tool you created is making our lives way easier.” The next day, it’s the recipient’s turn to award Stafford to someone else.

After months of participating in this daily practice as a team, I found the process highly rewarding. It often provided a space for connecting and communicating what would normally remain unsaid. The benefits were shared among the recognizer, the one being recognized, and the entire team.

Why Recognize?

Express gratitude and appreciation.

This is an opportunity to affirm and encourage teammates by thanking them for something they did that made a difference. There are plenty of studies that show that expressing gratitude not only increases mental and psychological health, but also increases levels of empathy and care for others. Choosing to make this a habit will benefit you and those around you in incredible ways.

Practice noticing the strengths of others.

An essential step in praising a teammate is simply noticing who they are and what they do well. What better way to practice awareness than with people you work with every day? Recognizing how the strengths of others balance and complement yours helps build humility and a healthy sense of interdependence and care.

Why Be Recognized?

Encouragement helps us get through.

Our jobs get tough, and there are some days when it is hard to remember that quality is worth the extra effort. Simply being thanked can act as a reminder that we make our teams stronger. Sometimes a small, kind word is just what is needed to find motivation.

Build relationships.

Being praised can feel uncomfortable, but it is a real human connection. It is someone seeing you and saying, “I am glad you are here.” Learning to receive this and to express appreciation to others will help enrich and strengthen your relationships.

Learn what you bring to the team.

Knowing your strengths is easier said than done. People tend to think their strengths aren’t anything special, saying, “Isn’t it this easy for everyone?” The answer is no. We don’t all enjoy the same kind of work or do it with the same level of ease. However, detecting these differences is difficult without communication. Within a few weeks of exchanging thanks and praise, I had a better sense of who to go to the next time I needed guidance on a part of the project.

On more than one occasion, a teammate responded to gratitude with, “You’re welcome. Just so you know, I do that work because I like it, not because I was taking one for the team.” Win-win.

Why Should Teams Recognize?

Own your process.

Recognition within your team might look different depending on team size or group preferences. Try out different cadences or formats as it fits. Your team might find that daily recognition is too often, and twice per week fits better.

Influence your team culture.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, your team will feel the difference. Practicing recognition within your team replaces discouragement with encouragement, negativity with positivity, and pride with humility and respect. Take time to acknowledge that everyone’s contributions are valuable and necessary to provide excellent service to our clients.