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Managing morale.

By Ruth Tearle

moraleGreat leaders and coaches are known for their ability to manage the morale of their teams. They are able to get the team (and every team member) to perform at their best – no matter what disappointments or challenges confront them.

Unlike technical performance, which is easy to see, measure and handle, morale is an invisible ether that is difficult to grasp. Yet the ability to manage the morale of a team is critical to the success of any leader. This is because morale determines whether a team has the energy, confidence, and commitment needed to perform at their best – no matter what situation they find themselves in.

Morale constantly changes.

Like energy, morale constantly shifts.

In good times we barely notice morale. When a company is profitable, when budgets are generous, and when people are feeling relaxed, both individuals and teams find it easy to perform well. Morale is something that no one talks or cares about.

In good times we barely notice morale.

Under stress, morale takes center stage.

Now throw some adversity at a team that is used to performing well. Put them under stress. Give them a project with an impossible deadline. Give them too many projects to cope with. Provide a few hard knocks. Add some frustration. Lose a key customer. Reduce your budget. Restructure the organization. Retrench a few people. Change a system. Change a leader. Merge with another team. Grow your business too fast. Lose an important member of the team. Focus only on the task. Ignore your team when people complain that they can't cope with the stress. Suddenly morale is all that anyone talks about. Ignore the morale of your team long enough, and your team be filled with low morale. They will eventually will stop performing until managing morale becomes your top priority.

Managers who create high morale in their teams as a day to day leadership skill, have an advantage over managers who don't see the need to focus on morale. When faced with hardship, teams with high morale are resilient. They are able to tackle problems with confidence and achieve in spite of difficulties and barriers. However teams with low morale tend to give up easily and wallow in negative self-pity.

What does high morale look like?

In a team that has high morale, team members are highly energized. They:

  • Work well together. They trust, support and appreciate each other.
  • Are friends with one another. They see the team as an extended family.
  • Feel that they are doing important, meaningful work.
  • A team with high morale has the energy, confidence and commitment needed to perform at their best.
  • Know that each member of the team will contribute his/her best and do whatever it takes for the team to achieve.
  • Are proud to be a member of the team. Each team member is proud of the work he/she does.
  • Enjoy working together. Work seems like fun. They laugh together.
  • Are confident in themselves, and in the combined ability of the team.
  • Are enthusiastic and creative.
  • See barriers and difficulties as challenges that they can overcome together.
  • Are excited about the future. They seek out new opportunities and challenges to test their skills.

What does low morale look like?

In a team that has low morale, team members wallow in negativity. They :

  • Stop caring – about their goal, the work, their customers, the team or the company. They don’t see the point in anything.
  • Act like everything is a great effort. They take a long time to complete any task.
  • Do the minimum amount of work that they can get away with.
  • Fail to meet important deadlines.
  • Give up easily.
  • See every little change as a source of additional stress.
  • Lose confidence in themselves and in the team.
  • Are not bothered that their work is sloppy or needs to be redone.
  • Don’t trust one another. They don’t respect their manager or the company.
  • See themselves as powerless victims.
  • Blame others for how they feel – they blame their manager or others in the team for their lack of performance.
  • Spend time gossiping, or complaining about how bad things are.
  • Are constantly weary, or sick. They complain about feeling burnt out.
  • Look or sound depressed.

How to spot triggers for poor morale.

Even the best teams, and best managers will find their morale being eroded over time when faced with:

  • Constant stress.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Too many impossible deadlines.
  • Constantly having to achieve more with less resources.
  • A high pressure project that results in a task focus. Managers focus only on the critical tasks that need to be done to achieve the goal, project or deadline. Managers don’t have space for ‘people issues ’ such as recognizing, rewarding, encouraging, or building confidence in individuals and in the team.
  • Constant changes or new projects that require people to constantly work harder.
  • Ever expanding roles and responsibilities.
  • Organizational restructuring and retrenchments.
  • Mergers and takeovers.
  • Unresolved issues or conflict.
  • Unmanaged growth that results in too much work and stress.
  • Leaders not managing a difficult person, who undermines others.
  • A poor corporate image. E.g. a company involved in fraud, pollution, or harmful products.

What to do if you think you have a morale problem.

Often when we have morale problems, we are faced with a chicken or the egg dilemma. The root cause of our problem is too much stress on our team. But we don’t have the time or energy we need to reduce the stress and deal with the resultant people issues. And yet, having a team of people performing at their worst, rather than at their best, causes a vicious cycle of stress, conflict and poor performance.

The sooner you recognize and deal with morale problems, the sooner you will reduce the stress that you and your team are under. You can use the diagnostic tool below to help you diagnose and deal with your specific morale problem.

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