When people think about working in groups, they often focus on unpleasant aspects such as conflict, boredom or rampant egos. They almost never mention saying “thank you” as a memorable feature, probably because it so rarely appears on the agenda.

Common “thank you” protocols

Gratitude is typically expressed at the beginning of a work session (“Thank you all for being here today.”) and after presentations, speeches or reports (“Thank you for those inspiring words,” etc.). Spoken by the group leader, these words are necessary, and omitting them would be a serious breach of protocol. But they rarely touch the heart.

In a similar way, the leader or facilitator usually says “thank you” after each person’s comment and at the end of a discussion. The main purpose of these words is to signal that the speaker or the topic under discussion is about to change.

Increasing the human dimension

If we want to introduce a little more human warmth into meetings, however, we need to create spaces where all the participants —not just the leader— can contribute to the “thanks-giving” experience,

One strategy is to include “thanks” as a topic in the agenda. Inserted after reviewing next steps and before the formal close, this is an opportunity for people to thank those whose contributions to the meeting were especially helpful, and also to colleagues and family members who made it possible for the speaker to attend the meeting.

Ideally, participants stand in a circle for the round of thanks. This allows them to see each other and also encourages them to keep their comments brief. Participation is voluntary and in no particular order. When all who want to speak have expressed their gratitude, the facilitator or the leader announces the formal close of the session.

The heartfelt words spoken in this circle can open new paths of communication and contribute to a sense of belonging within the group. People feel heard and seen. Sometimes even the boss or leader of the group receives recognition from team members that otherwise would be unlikely to occur.