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Please, Thank You: 3 Appreciation Exercises To Create A Positive Work Environment

Michael de la Maza

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appreciation exercises

People naturally want to be appreciated, respected, and treated as intelligent adults. 


For employees, “feedback” is one of the single most dreaded words to hear.

When a manager says, “I have feedback for you,” you’re usually instantly overcome with a sense of fear. Feedback is too often seen as a critique for a job done improperly.

Positive reinforcement in the workplace should achieve two basic goals: To acknowledge someone’s action or behavior and to encourage the person to repeat the action. People naturally want to be appreciated, respected, and treated as intelligent adults. 

Appreciation exercises can be a manager’s most powerful tool if they’re willing to try something new for just 30 minutes. 

According to Gallup, one study of 65,672 employees found those who received positive feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than employees who received no feedback. A similar study of 530 work units found that teams with managers who received positive feedback had 12.5% greater productivity than teams with managers who received no feedback. 

Recognizing your colleagues’ achievements with positive feedback through appreciation exercises is a great way to promote a harmonious atmosphere in the workplace. If given correctly, it encourages positive behavior and helps both co-workers and managers develop better relationships.

Unfortunately, not all managers instinctively know how to do this. If you’re looking to improve your evaluation approach, try these three appreciation exercises with your team

1. The Seven Dwarfs.

A childhood fairytale might seem like a funny way of offering positive feedback, but it gets to the heart of sharing your strengths with others. To practice this appreciation exercise, you’ll need to be familiar with Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc. 

In a group setting, ask everyone to assign a dwarf for themselves and their coworkers. From there, have each explain their choice. 

No, this isn’t an opportunity to tease Tom about falling asleep at his desk or tell Mary she needs to get control of her allergies. It’s finding creative ways to point out someone’s inner star quality.

For example: 

  • Doc is the clear leader, always willing to take charge of a situation and provide direction for others.
  • Dopey asks simple questions that lead to more in-depth conversations. 
  • Sleepy knows how to break appropriately to ensure a productive day.
  • Sneezy lightens the mood with an unexpected story or idea.
  • Happy embodies the “can do” attitude and finds the positive in every situation.
  • Bashful is comfortable taking direction and staying on task in group projects.

The Seven Dwarfs helps employees identify their own strengths as well as recognizing the same or different attributes their coworkers possess. Additionally, management has a fun, non-confrontational method for providing more frequent employee feedback. 

2. The Perfection Game.

We’d all like to master our jobs. Who doesn’t want the satisfaction of knowing they’re the best at what they do?

To be the best, we need feedback. 

Pointing out the bad sets employees on the defense. Comments like, “You could have done better on the presentation,” doesn’t make anyone feel empowered or motivated to do better.

Likewise, one-off performance comments can leave employees unsure of how to improve. Saying things like, “Your work needs improvement,” or, “I wasn’t very impressed with these reports,” doesn’t offer guidance and says nothing about what he or she can do to improve performance.

As a manager, your job is to give that direction, and you can do so with the Perfection Game created by Jim and Michele McCarthy.

The game is ideal for giving employee evaluation on a specific project or task. You start by assigning a score to the project, using a scale of one to 10. From there, begin your explanation of the score with a positive assessment. 

You want to get your point across very clearly by explaining, “Here’s what I liked about it. Here’s what made it a seven.” 

Next, give specific examples of how they can get the project to a 10. Instead of issuing a general complaint that yields frustration and inhibits motivation, you now have the opportunity to give a very clear and actionable to-do list. 

3. Discover and Dream.

Don’t be afraid to share your strengths, then dream about implementing them. We all dream of doing our best. Sometimes, sharing those dreams out loud can help us achieve them. 

One way we can do that at work is through the group appreciation exercise Discover and Dream. For this activity, ask each employee to share his or her most valued strength. 

For example, Bill says he’s very disciplined. He always arrives at meetings prepared and ready to participate. When given a deadline, the work is submitted on time. Projects are forecasted and updated to keep others focused, as well.

Next, the group asks Bill one question, “Imagine that you are an infinitely disciplined person. What can you do now?” 

When Bill is prompted to consider a scenario where he’s infinitely disciplined, he can envision a more successful version of himself. He now has the time to implement new projects, attend that new training seminar to learn new skills, and spend more time enjoying his favorite hobby. This type of visualization exercise allows him to see his potential success,  rather than the failures that come with constructive criticism. 

Discover and Dream was utilized by a 2,500-person company I worked with and aimed to help executive-level employees focus on their most positive accomplishments. Immediately after completing the exercise, high-performing employees felt more motivated to exceed their performance expectations.

Sure, it might feel weird to call your coworker Dopey or score someone’s work the same way you would your favorite restaurant. And that’s the point. Appreciation exercises are meant to be fun so the practice of giving and receiving feedback feels comfortable. And while they aren’t meant to solve every performance issue that arises, they are able to create a work culture where employees feel good not just about themselves, but also their job, coworkers, and supervisors.

If this topic resonated and you’d like to talk about it together on your podcast, let me know!

Here are a few other articles you might find helpful:

Beyond The Razzle Dazzle: Why Your Company Needs Agile Coaching, Not A Management Consultant

3 Ways Agile Coaches Use Technology To Improve Teaching Techniques, Cater To Client Needs, And Reach A Global Audience

6 Exercises To Improve Team Collaboration, Co-Founder Synergy, And Employee Happiness


Co-founder, DemingWay.com. We help people learn agile more effectively and at a lower cost. Previously VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011).

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