Appreciative Feedback with StrongSuits

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In recent years there has been a proliferation of staff recognition tools for expressing gratitude and appreciation in the workplace, ranging from personalised thank you cards and e-cards to company-wide gratitude walls and a vast array of more elaborate approaches.

I’ve trained and worked with hundreds of managers over the past decade who consistently report to me that the practice of peer recognition has, overall, been helpful in creating an atmosphere and culture of looking for and noticing what people do well. According to the field of Appreciative Inquiry (a precursor to the Strengths movement), recognising what people do well is more likely to build on their strengths and achieve better results than focusing solely on problems and on fixing their weaknesses. You can actually weaken a strength by trying to strengthen a weakness.

There is also a growing body of research on the health and wellbeing benefits of expressing gratitude, including Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by UC Davis professor of psychology Robert Emmons.

These peer recognition tools are, however, not immune to pitfalls. Some employees may lack sufficient trust or psychological safety in using the tool, while others may be quite resistant to giving or receiving recognition in general. Furthermore, such tools may be limited to only providing recognition and so may miss out on a valuable opportunity to simultaneously provide improvement-oriented feedback.

The StrongSuits® cards provide for a safe way to express both appreciative and improvement-based feedback in progressive stages as safety gradually builds in the team. Below are 5 progressive steps to providing appreciative and improvement-based feedback using the StrongSuits cards:

  1. Ritualise giving and receiving. Lower the barrier to uptake by creating a safe container for the whole team to give and receive appreciations in real time.
  2. Make it transparent. Every team member has only a partial view of every other team member’s strengths. By calling out strengths publicly we help to build a fuller picture of the strengths each person brings to the team.
  3. Play “At Your Best” followed by “Even Better If”. “At Your Best” is a game for appreciating the strengths that each person brings when they’re at their best. “Even Better If” is a game for recognising strengths that, if they showed up in that person, might make them “even better” for themselves and for the team.
  4. Practice StrengthSpotting or SuitSpotting. Each team member chooses a strength or a suit to work with over a period of time. Teammates call out or note down whenever they spot the team member demonstrating evidence of that strength or suit.
  5. Play “Your Stress Hand” or “Your Shadow Hand” Games (Advanced). In these games, team members use the StrongSuits cards to identify overplayed strengths or limiting thoughts that they observe in themselves and in their teammates. These are powerful, transformative games for teams that are ready for them.
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