How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Build a Better Team

5 Things That Will Increase Performance and Achievements in Your Team

If you lead a team, your ability to use positive reinforcement the right way, will assist you in building a highly engaged and functional team.

Your role as a leader, is to bring the best out of your team members and guide them to improve how they perform in your team. Using positive reinforcement is a way you can help them develop.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

While positive reinforcement should not be the only way to bring the best out of team members, it is a powerful practice that will lead to the repetition of behaviours that are in the best interest of a team.

The opposite is negative reinforcement, where something is taken away because of a behaviour or situation. For example, not meeting specified targets may result in a team member not offered a promotion or a pay increase.

A leader’s responsibility is to know when to use which reinforcement and how often to use it.

The purpose of using positive reinforcement is to:

  • Acknowledge or validate a desired behaviour.
  • Encourage a desired behaviour to continue.

The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement in Teams

  • Happier team members.
  • Higher levels of trust between a leader and team members.
  • More confidence amongst team members.
  • Improved team performance.
  • Achievement of goals within agreed timeframes.
  • More creativity and innovation.

Given that most people spend close to a third of their lives working, adopting a simple practice like positive reinforcement, will make their work experience more enjoyable.

positive reinforcement
positive reinforcement

When I wanted to write my first book, I enrolled in a course to improve my writing skills. During the first month, whenever students submitted assignments for evaluation, the instruction was to provide positive feedback only.

Students were asked to focus on what they liked about their classmate’s writing. The purpose was to use positive reinforcement to build confidence in students that they had they ability to write.

That made a huge difference to me. It also trained me to focus on what was good in other student’s writings. When students were asked to give feedback on how to improve, it was a lot easier to receive because we had spent the first few weeks focusing on what was good about our writing.

Since completing that course, I have written hundreds of articles and a few more books. This is because I gained confidence through the power of positive reinforcement.

Types of Positive Reinforcement

  1. Natural reinforcement which occurs naturally when a behaviour is carried out. For example, a team member carries out their normal responsibilities, which results in satisfied customers.
  2. Milestone reinforcement which occurs where the execution of behaviours accumulates to reach milestones, which can be used to get a tangible benefit. For example, a team member may reach progressive targets during a project and earn a reward at the completion of the project.
  3. Social reinforcement which occurs when a behaviour is acknowledged in publicly. For example, during a team meeting, a leader may recognise a member for a certain behaviour, or for going above and beyond what was expected of them to reach an outcome.
  4. Tangible reinforcement which are physical rewards. For example, a team member may accomplish all their objectives resulting in an end-of-year bonus and a pay increase.

Knowing these reinforcements will make it easier for you to identify which one to use for which team member.

5 Ways to Use Positive Reinforcement to Build a Better Team

  1. Give reinforcement immediately. You don’t have to wait for a team meeting or a catch-up session to appreciate a team member. If you notice someone carrying out a positive behaviour that you know will help them and the team, let them know what you appreciate about it.
  2. Pay attention to your body language. Your words and your body language have to be congruent. If they aren’t, the positive words you say will come off as fake or in-genuine.
  3. Create a team culture that encourages feedback. People are often quick to give negative feedback, but slow to say something positive. If you create a culture that provides regular feedback across all levels, positive reinforcement will become a way of life in your team.
  4. Use positive reinforcement the right amount. You don’t want to overuse it to the point where positive words don’t have any significance. Part of creating a culture that provides feedback is to ensure there is a right balance between positive and constructive feedback.
  5. Focus on aligning skills to roles. As a leader, you must know what your team members are good at and what they are passionate about. When you can align what they love and what they are good at to their role, you will create a more engaged and satisfied team.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t use positive reinforcement, you will not create a happy team environment, which will show up in how team members behave and perform.

Action Step: If positive reinforcement is not a regular practice in your team, lead by example and practice using it now. Aim to say one positive thing to a team member daily, then continue to increase it until it becomes part of your leadership style.

Question: What are other ways to use positive reinforcement to build a better team?

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