FounderFuel: Harnessing positive feedback to fuel your team as a founder

When was the last time you told someone in your team they did something well? Did you make it specific what they did well too, so they can learn from it?

We’re not talking about praise for praise’s sake here – most people can see right through that. But positive feedback is proven to improve motivation, team performance and is an under-utilised asset in encouraging the team behaviours that you want.

Positive praise boosts performance

Gallup ran a study that looked at 4 million employees and concluded that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise have increased productivity, increased engagement and get better satisfactions scores from customers. Similarly, a Wharton study found that gratitude in the form of managers saying thank you to their team-members for their efforts actually motivated them to work harder. So saying a positive word more regularly stacks up for business.

“The key to learning is feedback. It’s impossible to learn anything without it.” 

Steven Levitt

Pride, pleasure and increased feelings of self-esteem are all common reactions to receiving positive feedback. In the brain, being praised triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. Interestingly, dopamine also contributes to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving at work too – so in a startup environment, we could argue it’s worth investing even more. The positive effects of dopamine are relatively short-lived though, so to have an ongoing positive affect we need to build it in regularly.

Reinforce the behaviours you want through specific positive feedback

When it comes to encouraging a change of behaviour in individuals and teams, positive feedback can make a tangible difference, and the more specific you can be, the better. Consider an example where you are aiming to encourage others to come with options / ideas rather than just problems. By openly acknowledging and thanking people when they bring solutions to discuss, you encourage them to do this next time too. The more specific you are about the behaviour or action that you appreciate, the more likely it is that it will be repeated.

Similarly, in situations where you have a team member working on a particular behaviour as part of their own development (such as speaking up in meetings) your recognition [in private] when you see them practice this behaviour well, has the potential to motivate them to keep on trying and boost morale. This kind of positive recognition is proven to correlate positively with employee efficiency and effectiveness and increase the likelihood of the desired behaviour in the long-term too (Wei & Yazdanifard, 2014).

A framework for specific feedback that reinforces positive behaviours

Feedback doesn’t come easy to most of us, it is a learned behaviour, but this does mean we can learn it and our team can too. The key to this kind of reinforcing feedback is making it specific and including the impact of their actions or behaviour. So rather than just saying something was ‘good’, instead push for “good because…”. Try this as a framework:

  • Select your moment: Most people would rather you gave feedback (even something positive) in a one-to-one setting, but make it as close to the occasion as possible – grab a moment at the end of a meeting or with positive feedback send them a one-liner message afterwards.
  • Say what you saw: Be clear and specific about what you saw and when – “I noticed…” is a helpful way to start. If you’re their manager and know they’re working on a change, then you can acknowledge this too as it ties to their professional development effectively.
  • Show the impact: Create momentum around their efforts by emphasising the positive impact the behaviour has. This could be on the team, project, product, or even team rapport.

Double down by encouraging positive feedback across your team

As startup leaders, we want to create high-performing teams, where everyone in the team has a yearning to do great things and continue to build and improve on those great things. Given the performance and motivation impact of positive, specific feedback it is worth encouraging and even celebrating it as part of the team – encouraging it between team members too, making it the day-to-day norm.

Let’s face it, at first this can feel forced or cliched (especially in the UK!) but here you can really lead from the front and model the behaviour you want. It might feel awkward to start, or you may even get some surprised reactions, but as the habit kicks in you may find teammates following your lead too.

So with that in mind, we have a challenge for you… over the next week, how often can you say something positive about a teammate’s work or work style? Often we think it, but never quite say it – so how about saying it and seeing how it lands?


This article is part of a series on feedback and conflict:

Boost performance with regular positive feedback

Co-founder conflict resolution

A simple framework for effective feedback with your team

How to use Co-founder (or partner) Retros to keep your most important work relationships performing at their best

And coming soon…  how to boost performance with self-led feedback in your team

Written by Christina Richardson, founder at weare3Sixty
Founder coach & trainer | Startup exec-team coach | FounderCircle® creator & head-coach. Passionate about sustainable founder performance, wellbeing and the leadership transition from founder to C-suite.

About the FounderFuel Series: Actionable tools and bite-sized insights to empower entrepreneurs and founders to get the best from themselves and those around them as startup and scaleup leaders. Get the fuel direct to your inbox by signing up here.

At weare3Sixty we believe in supporting the humans behind the world’s ambitious startups and our mission is to make sure that every founder and startup leader in the ecosystem has the support and skills to reach their full potential as resilient, high-performing leaders.

Here you’ll find 1:1 founder coaching, team coaching and team training all dedicated to the unique ride that is starting up and scaling up. Not only that, with our group-coaching FounderCircles® you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of other talented founders on the journey too – all committed to fuelling themselves, their teams and each other for the ride.

Calling all accelerators and investment partners: We work in partnership with investors, accelerators and incubators to complement programmes of support and learning with the human side of startup performance. Find out more here.

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