About a year ago, during a residential accelerator program one afternoon, I found a mentor lying down on a sofa in the campus café. No doubt, he was tired from his mentoring sessions, I thought. It was a hot day. He was deep into something on his phone, and I asked him what was up. He sat up, inviting me to perch next to him.
“Check out these two blocks in my calendar,” he said. “I’m just giving gratitude to my team. Like I do every time this week.”
Huh? Given this guy is (rightly) revered as a genius, has precious little time, and works in one of the most intense, results-focused teams in Silicon Valley, I expected him to be emailing, coding, selling. I was curious. I looked, and there it was on his calendar: every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: GRATITUDE. I asked him what it was all about.
Unfortunately, the simple act of saying “thanks” is something we as a society seem to have forgotten.
“Well, it’s pretty simple,” he explained. “We just take a few minutes every week to remember to say thanks to people around the team, the support staff, friends, whoever I guess.”
And there he was, writing short notes of thanks to colleagues for specific things they had done this week. This was a real thing. But if things were super busy, they probably skipped it, right?
“Nope, actually we have it locked in there every week and it doesn’t ever move,” he said. “We’ll move meetings with clients before we move gratitude.”
That was that. Our conversation was done, the accelerator program continued, the mentor shared his technical genius with us, and everyone went home happy.
When I returned to Colombia and CoSchool (the education startup I co-founded), I didn’t remember all of the technical stuff, but this surprising conversation stayed with me. We were a team of seven or so at the time, and I suggested we begin a tradition called “Gratitude Fridays.” We’re now a team of 15, and I think “Gratitude Fridays” has become one of the most important things we do in CoSchool. The way we share gratitude looks like this:
Dear [INSERT NAME],
I hope you don’t mind me writing out of the blue. I’m not sure if you have heard, but every Friday in CoSchool, we take 20 minutes to stop and give thanks to people around us: in the team, in our networks, and so on. Really, anyone to whom we feel grateful. This week I want to say thanks to you for…
Whether it’s face to face or over the phone, via email or Whatsapp (we’ve also invented gratitude speed dating and the gratitude chair), you will find the CoSchool team taking time every Friday just to say thanks to each other and those around us. If we are running programs on a Friday, we are always sure to build in time to explain “Viernes de Gratitud” and demonstrate it. We’re kind of hoping it might go viral one day.
Unfortunately, the simple act of saying thanks is something we as a society seem to have forgotten. In the frantic day to day of a startup, it’s easy to forget the choices that people make every day to buy into a shared dream, the love people put into what they do, and the progress that individuals and the organization is making. So many people deserve gratitude.
By instilling a culture of gratitude within my team, here are the five most important things I’ve learned in the process:
1. Gratitude is a beautiful “hack” to being more present.
In its highest form, I think gratitude is essentially a state of consciousness. If you learn to be truly grateful, you will treat failure and success the same: with thanks. While I’m not quite there yet, I’ve found that giving thanks is a form of meditation for me: a pause, a look inward, and recognition of something good.
2. There’s always someone to be grateful for.
I’ve loved using “Gratitude Fridays” as an excuse to contact old friends: Do you remember that time when…? Thanks for that. Thanks for being there for me. Thanks for caring.
Giving positive, timely feedback is the most powerful way to help people grow and develop.
3. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
When you stop someone in the middle of what they are doing and ask if you can speak to them for a minute, chances are you both brace for something awkward or uncomfortable. I invite you to think about someone who deserves thanks, and then find a moment to say it to them. Be specific (i.e. Thank you for listening to me on Tuesday evening when I was having a hard time). See how you feel, let alone how you will make them feel.
4. It helps people improve.
Giving positive, timely feedback is the most powerful way to help people grow and develop. For example, if someone thanks me for asking good, open questions in a meeting, the chances are I will keep developing that particular skill.
5. It’s contagious.
CoSchool is now getting to a place where giving gratitude publicly and privately doesn’t just happen on Fridays. I’m hearing and seeing gratitude shared during sales meetings, on Monday mornings, and with our cleaning lady.
With all of this in mind, I want to finish by saying thanks to Tom Chi for taking the time to explain his team’s gratitude ritual to me. It’s helped me to become a more positive person, and CoSchool is a better place for it.