All of us in leadership roles would like our teams to perform at a higher level over time, and positivity plays a large role in this. Recent research by Kim Cameron and his colleagues at the University of Michigan found that teams who institute positive practices achieve significantly higher levels of productivity, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and profitability. This begs the question, how can we develop more positive teams? We don’t need to guess at the answer. From research by Cameron, Jon Gordon, and others, we can learn and apply the steps we need to follow.

Provide Positive Leadership. Positivity starts at the top; leaders create a “shadow” and set an example with their words and actions. As leaders, we need to ensure we are happy, emotionally healthy, and positive! Positive psychologist Martin Seligman has developed the PERMA model to highlight the five essential elements we need to be happy, which are:

Positive Emotion


Relationships (positive)



We also need to work on our emotional intelligence. It is important to be aware of our own emotions and how they affect other people to avoid passing on these negative emotions to our team.

Understand and Apply the “Pygmalion Effect.” In a nutshell, the Pygmalion Effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy where the performance we expect from an individual (or team) becomes a reality. One of my sayings is, “People tend to live up, or live down, to the expectations placed on them.” Leaders get the performance we expect, so we need to have higher expectations from our teams and build their confidence that they can meet those expectations. Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, summarizes the approach by counseling, “Treat employees like they will make a difference, and they will.”

Create a Positive Culture. Cameron found that workplaces characterized by the following positive and virtuous practices did have positive cultures that helped the team excel:

  • Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
  • Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
  • Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes.
  • Inspiring one another at work.
  • Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

These practices benefit the company by increasing positive emotions, buffering against negative events, and attracting and bolstering employees, which makes them more loyal and likely to exert their best effort.

Remove Obstacles to Positivity. To really boost positivity on our teams, we need to remove things that stand in the way. Dr. Frederick Herzberg and other researchers have found work environments contain “hygiene” factors that, if not done well, lead to job dissatisfaction. Two key points are 1) not doing well on these hygiene factors will contribute to job dissatisfaction and 2) doing well on these factors will NOT lead to job satisfaction – but will keep motivation neutral. The primary dissatisfiers are company policy and administration; supervision; relationship with supervisor; work conditions; and salary.

The key here is to participatively engage with employees and develop policies, practices, and work conditions that are viewed as fair and positive. We may not be contributing much to the satisfaction and motivation of our employees, but we will avoid fueling dissatisfaction and demotivating them.

Herzberg also discovered a set of factors that are considered “satisfiers” or “motivators”. Assuming the hygiene factors are being satisfactorily met, these factors are what truly inspire and motivate employees. And these factors have a strong intrinsic bent to them. These six major motivators are achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth.

Encourage Connection Within the Team. Google recently completed a five-year study called Project Aristotle, which revealed the keys to their most productive and inventive teams. Surprisingly, the top teams were not the A-teams composed of their top scientists, but B-teams that contained people not necessarily considered the smartest or most knowledgeable. However, the top-performing teams had the best sense of connection between team members (fostered by interest in teammates’ ideas, empathy, and emotional intelligence) and also a feeling of emotional safety. Team members’ feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other was “far and away the most important dynamic that set successful teams apart.”

Wes Friesen is President, Solomon Training & Development. His book, Your Team Can Soar! is available on Amazon and other outlets.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.