A while ago in a dark and windowless office, I printed off a few emails and collected post-it notes containing words of gratitude that clients had sent my way when I worked on their projects. I stuck the collection to the back of my door and called it a “win wall.”
Little by little, these post-its multiplied, the print-outs stacked on top of one another, and passersby began to ask questions about this colourful wall of paper. With time, my colleagues started adding their own win-filled notes until our win wall could no longer be contained to my door. It moved into the hallway and continued to take off from there from there.
More than a wall: it’s a state of mind
I’ve started several win walls since then, and have observed similar behaviours happening each time. Win walls became central gathering points for a team, sparking positive conversations and lifting overall morale. They acted as a barometer for an office’s emotional well being, helping both managers and employees see tangible indicators of how people were feeling week to week.
These win walls were the unofficial cheerleader of the office: they helped us emphasize the positive things in life and build a sense of momentum, an effect that was especially valuable when project deadlines seemed impossible, tempers flew high or motivation was low. Seeing the wins on the wall helped decrease the sense of powerlessness and frustration one might have felt on a particularly challenging day.
The post-it notes with words of gratitude and positivity served as a physical way to remind us to try to keep perspective and put effort into recognizing and sharing these daily positive moments. Overall, the presence of the win walls helped us remember that even on the toughest day the office is not necessarily as dire a place as it can sometimes seem.
The ripple effect of wins and positive thoughts
So, could something as simple as a win wall help people feel better about their workplace, experience less stress, think more positively, and perhaps even live longer?
It’s not a farfetched hypothesis. Positivity has a physiological effect on our minds and bodies. These “wins” capture a memorable moment for someone; something so memorable that they took the time to intentionally put it out into the world. The contributors did not stop at the simple act of thinking about a positive moment: they decided to take visible action by physically committing the memory to a piece of paper and posting it on the wall. Given that there are studies that show taking a positive action (as opposed to thinking alone) can improve one’s outlook and subsequently behaviour, it’s no wonder that I’ve found win walls to have such a positive impact in a workplace.
Here is the best part: it’s very easy and inexpensive to try out your very own win wall for next few months and examine the effects yourself. Would you like to see how a few post-its can build a happy work environment?
Ready to make your own win wall? Here’s how
1. Find some big paper and put it up
Find tracing or drafting paper, or use jumbo sketch pad sheets to create the base for your wall. I usually buy 18 x 24” sketch pads (newspaper grade that usually come in 50 or 100 sheets) at the local art store that cost about $4.
Tack it onto a cubicle wall or tape it to the wall (read on for tips on selecting the perfect wall).
2. Optional but recommended: Write a short description and decorate
Your colleagues may need some help understanding the purpose behind the wall and some encouragement for them to participate. Here is the text I write (usually at the very top of the paper or right in the center) to explain the wall:
This is our win wall. A win wall is a place where we celebrate and share our wins of the day with each other: big or little, personal or professional.
Why? Because we spend many hours together in this space, and it is very likely that we’ve individually had several moments throughout the day when things went really well. Why not share these highlights – or win moments – with us?
How to participate:
1. Grab a post-it note and a marker.
2. Write your win (as clearly or vaguely as you’d like, about anything).
3. Stick it onto this paper.
Here are some examples of “wins”: “I finished my document on time,” “My proposal got approved” or “I got a free cookie today!”… it can even be, “I get to go home now and not be here.”
Add colours, arrows, drawings, or anything else that you think will draw attention to the wall.
3. Place supplies within reach
Make it as easy as possible for anyone to contribute by having markers and post-it notes available as close to the win wall as possible. Most of the notes I’ve seen posted were spur-of-the-moment additions contributed on-the-go as people walked by and saw the wall, since they didn’t need to walk back to their desks for something to write on or forget their win before having a chance to add it to the wall.
4. Promote the wall
Spread the word about your win wall to encourage participation for those around you. Talk about the win wall at your next team meeting, explaining its use and benefits to your colleagues. There may be a few odd looks around the table, but with time the effects of the win wall will become clear to those who may have doubted it. Even if you don’t feel comfortable promoting it with your whole team, try telling one or two close colleagues about it.
Tips for a winning win wall
Having started a few walls in various office environments, I’ve found the following points to be key factors in how successful and active a win wall can be.
- Location is key: Place your win wall in a high-traffic area where lots of colleagues will pass by at least once per day. Entrances to main areas and those around the kitchen or near the printer tend to get more traffic from what I’ve observed.
- Make it difficult to miss: Use colours, photos, or any other visual element that will help attract attention to the win wall. You want people to notice it, stop for a moment to take in what others have contributed, and ideally add their own wins, helping the wall grow beyond a one-person initiative.
- Anonymity is perfect: Don’t discourage anonymous notes. Each person has a certain level of comfort when it comes to sharing emotions in the workplace. The point of the wall is to elevate morale, and if some feel the need to be anonymous to be honest, so be it.
- Physical win walls win: I have tried to replicate win walls online with my virtual colleagues without much luck. I suspect that it has to do with the physical sense of community that builds around physical walls. If you’ve had more success on this front, I would love to hear about it!
- Life wins and work wins: Successful win walls tend to be a mix of professional and personal wins. I suggest pointing this out to those adding wins to the wall so people don’t necessarily fixate on work-related wins. This is particularly important for longer-term projects that may not have daily milestones.
The glass is half full, with post-its
Ranting and putting out negativity into the world after a hard day at the office is easy. However, by investing a few dollars and minutes into setting up a win wall, you can make sharing positive moments and building a healthier work environment even easier than defaulting to rants when looking for collegial support.
For some, the sunrise can be the first win of the day; for others, it may be the sunset marking the end of a long troublesome one. Both of these things, as well as a million others both big and small each day, are wins worth celebrating. Why not post them and let the rest of us in on your wins so we can all benefit from a little positive thinking?
If you start a win wall, I’d love to hear about your experience!
Have a few minutes? Watch the videos below on the effect that expressing gratitude has on us and those around us.
The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude
The Science of Happiness – Look on the Bright Side