You can walk into any workplace and know pretty quickly how good its team morale is — especially after a few days off for some public holidays.
How often does a charismatic leader stride into a room, spray sparkly ideals and directions and have everyone dazed in some kind of afterglow? Rarely!
Often those in charge are blamed for lacklustre, self-serving office environments. Despite lip service paid to ‘flat management’, people still take their cue from their leaders.
Yours might be an individualist ethos whereby you take cues only from yourself. You may be someone with awesome mantras that propel you from bed every morning, and the KPIs you established and shared with your manager keep you supercharged.
You may well be relentlessly cheerful, despite colleagues’ grumbles and an atmosphere that stifles the best intentions. If this is the case, you need to be a leader! At the very least don’t hold back on sharing the good vibe, because some teams can develop a great culture despite a disappointing leader.
Reality check: verbal protein power and impressive presentations have their place. But if you want to truly elevate team morale, there’s some grunt work that needs doing.
Not everyone is a born leader, but there are fundamental ways to ensure your team is at its best all the time.
Inspire with meaningful goals
Here’s an example:
A sales team manager was well-known for her weekly sticky bun morning teas and “rev ’em up team, exciting times ahead!” monologues. The staff stood well away, clutching styrofoam beverages, chiming in half-heartedly. Why? Because much of what the manager said was vague. She looked like foreman material, but could never be pinned down on targets, let alone the plans for the team’s future. Her team was badly under-resourced and not happy, a point raised many times by the more vocal among them — like a tennis ball served across a net, only to never be returned.
The best way to approach this is to clearly know the corporate goals and the goals of your own team. From this, everyone’s jobs should clearly relate to the important goals and outcomes of the business and team. When the goals are meaningful and values are aligned, the team is inspired and this ongoing discussion keeps the group energised.
Support all team members
Managers need to put in serious time speaking with each and every team member, in a place where they can speak freely. They need to listen and respond with solutions that can realistically be implemented. Often that is all staff want and need. Some of them have good ideas, but without the support they may not raise them because managers are too busy or glaze over in seconds.
Support is not a one-off opportunity to say nice things when you feel sorry for someone in distress. Support may be about providing resources, about anticipating overload and sensing concerns. Go out for those coffees and walking meetings, follow up on these talks and issues, and don’t be selective with your favours. We all have our preferences when dealing with others, but it’s vital to be impartial and supportive to everyone.
Share challenges and outcomes
Much of the time, challenges are human-induced. Is it any wonder we’re seeing all those awful enthusiastic plugs for robot workers? How soon before we have robot managers? Until an Arnie is built to solve the world’s problems, office challenges need to be shared and thrashed out together. None of this passing the buck under the guise of “delegation”. It is infinitely satisfying — and team-building — when everyone’s had the opportunity to contribute to the solution of a knotty problem.
Participate in group activities
“My door is always open!” — how often do managers say that? On many occasions, the reality is the door is shut most of the time – and through the glass, the manager is seen gesticulating to someone who is always more important. If the door opens, do you get a blank stare or a chilly smile to ward off any questions or keep you from venturing in?
Don’t be selective about keeping your team informed. Jump at the chance to participate in group activities. Initiate activities yourself and support those who initiative and facilitate them. Roll up your sleeves and get involved with what’s happening. Strategy is not just for the big guns.
Praise privately and publicly
Don’t ignore contributions — encourage ideas and the time to develop them. There are sneaky types who talk up ‘ideation’ and then at the annual company love-fest take all the credit for themselves. Don’t be like the New Yorker cartoon: “I know it was your idea but it was my idea to use your idea.” If team members generate novel ways of improving workloads, let them and stakeholders know that you’re thrilled, that they will be rewarded and give the members the credit.
Just as no garden magically improves with a quick spray of fertiliser, no team can be motivated by airy phrases. Get in there and nourish, prune and cultivate your many wonderful blooms and companion plants.
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