Recognition is not always about the 'kudos'.

Have you ever been asked "Do you feel recognised at work?" perhaps as part of an engagement survey perhaps from HR? It's a good question.

We've known for at least 70 years [1] that there is a connection between being recognised at work and feeling motivated. I've occasionally been asked to look into 'encouraging' engineering teams to share more public recognition because when measured, they do it less than any other area of the business. Public recognition is good, so should we be worried its not happening publicly?

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Recognition is a really personal thing.

After making a painful mistake of openly congratulating a team member who I was unaware had an anxiety for public recognition, I started checking in with my team, asking 'What's your preference for being recognised publicly? Are you comfortable being recognised in public, and how can I enable it to be a genuinely rewarding experience?', (when you inevitably do great work!).

It turns also to be a really interesting subject. I've found very few people declare their preference for a public shout out (would you?), some really don't care, most are happy to accept that there is value in the public bit, all of them like the thank you gift (if there is one) and a few are horrified at the idea of being called out in public - to a point where for they'd rather not get the recognition at all.

Research done in 2015 highlights the effects of peer recognition on employee well-being and positive psychological functioning but one of the key takeouts for me is this:

Peer recognition is twice as valuable as supervisor recognition its really important that your organisation has a culture of recognition not just top down ceremonies.

Theres a lot of benefit to both public and private recognition, it's well documented and the internet is full of great articles giving tips on how to promote a culture of recognition, much of this includes insight on how to share recognition across the business - so that others might also be inspired. The key to nailing high scores in the HR question "Do you feel recognised at work?" is nailing the combination of both top down and bottom up recognition, helping your teams get the best from opportunities that present themselves in the team is as important as the kudos channel.

If you are looking to introduce more recognition into your culture its worth considering an understanding that some of the most powerful thanks is personal and done between peers not in public, and that making it public can for some change the very effect of the recognition. In engineering teams I've found that when digging into the recognition subject theres a few places where I've seen bottom up recognition happening naturally without prompting, these are the places I might suggest starting looking for it if you are wondering how your team is doing behind the public channels.

Team Admin

Admin is not the first place you might expect to look for team recognition but I've often considered Pull Requests to be like casting a virtual 'hi-five'. Teams I've worked with might be familiar with this concept because it drives a metric that I find valuable - the length of time (average if you like) that pull requests are left hanging around. If you've ever been on the end of a long lived request you'll know the feeling of lonely tumbleweed, creeping paranoia and imposter syndrome that comes when you realise nobody in the team has time to do this, its the same feeling throwing up a smile and a hi-five only to be walked past (really did they not see it?).

Having a healthy team pull request or pairing process is super important for a number of reasons but really there is no better way to show respect for your colleagues and say thank you than by taking time from your day to help them, and if your team routinely can't keep on top of this its a great topic to focus a retro on!

I've used PR's here but there are loads of ways engineers support each other, quick bug tests, pairing sessions, PR's, card moves etc it falls under team admin really. If your team is nailing team admin for each other they are well on the way to tackling number one on Lencioni's 'Five Dysfunctions of a Team' Trust. Healthy teams build and grow trust and by creating discipline around team function ('never leave a PR hanging') is just one of the ways to set the stage of 'how we do things around here'.

The secondary benefit of these processes is the immediacy of the feedback & recognition good work is shared with the team - it gets them excited and avoids the exhaustion of frequent context switching. Helping your colleague is potentially the highest form of respect, but the excitement and the network effect of sharing achievements exponentially increases the return! Never leave a team Hi-five hanging, and if your team feel theirs are left too long take a look at your processes and why!


Retrospectives, a bit like team admin serve a have a set of purposes and rituals on their own. One of the core features of a good retrospective is a period of time set aside to reflect and call out success and failure a well executed retrospective should create a safe space where the team can show vulnerabilities with each other. (retro's can really help with Lencioni's 2nd Dysfunction Conflict too!) In my experience some of the most exceptionally genuine and heartfelt thanks has been given in these sessions, it might just be a case of allowing the time to talk through how things went and how everyone felt but during retrospectives most high performing teams will recognise both ends of the scale, what went well and what didn't, recognition here is sometimes related to 'saving teammates' from potential difficultly - if you're leading teams and you never feel or see recognition in your retros maybe you could inject some or call it out!

Stand-ups & Pairing

In my experience recognition that comes from an organisation is almost always welcome perhaps in some way similar to the way parents congratulate their children, its important its done well and damaging if its not there but real value comes from unexpected recognition and that often comes from peers, perhaps when you weren't expecting it. Recognising openly and in public is essential people gain much more value from their peers.

In Stand-up a team shares its work and challenges throwing up opportunities hopefully the team feel safe enough to share frustrations or places where they are stuck - these acts of micro vulnerability are places where thanks and team recognition follows.


If you are leading engineering teams its important to call out success in public - be supportive of personal preference but always call it out.

If you're measuring recognition across an organisation it pays to take a look under the hood ask you team if they feel recognised - your team might already have high 'scores' because they are constantly recognising the small things they do for each other everyday - maybe you could call them out for that in the kudos channel.

An important thing you can do as a leader to nurture a strong culture of recognition is to inspire stretch goals with clear autonomy, create a safe space for the team to help and support each other and build some good processes to flag anti-patterns for investigation. If its not happening naturally theres lots of reasons why not, time-constraint is a commonly quoted challenge but this is often masking something deeper. I've found with the environment right, teams will often start to recognise the support of their peers directly, even face to face, with personal thanks, utilising the double benefit of peer feedback.