If you want a lesson on team morale and its criticality, just look to American soldiers in World War II and Vietnam. These were very different times, exceedingly different public networks of morale, and as history tells, very different outcomes.
Morale is the confidence, enthusiasm and discipline of a person or a group. Many factors combine to create or destroy team morale.
Military organizations know this. They know that a lack of morale hinders everything, which for warfare can mean the loss of a nation. This reality causes the military to boost the morale of every soldier and every squad at every opportunity.
But it doesn’t stop with the soldiers. Military organizations also maintain and enhance the morale of the commanders, wives, husbands and children of soldiers, and of the nation in general. If they didn’t, a soldier or his team dodging bullets in a warzone hellscape might lose “the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline” necessary to survive.
Since teamwork in the workplace is critical to a successful business, your teams’ morale is critical as well.
And as you may have guessed from my soldier example, it involves more than just individual workers in a team. It involves the individual, the team, the department, other departments, the division, the entire company, the community outside of the company and even the spouses and children of employees.
You need to make as many people working, and supporting workers, excited about the mission and the outcomes.
As a leader, you cannot leave this to chance. It is one of the Tough Things First that you must do. It is a daily task for a CEO, a priority because when team morale falters, so does the team. And when the team falters, so does the company.
Here are 9 tips that are helpful in maintaining and growing morale in your company:
Many people rightly live by the creed that “the family that plays together stays together,” because it is true. The same applies to any group of people who, like families, spend a great deal of time together.
You cannot know, and thus cannot like and trust a person wholly if you only know one aspect of them. When you only “work” with people, those people become an object of labor, not happiness.
Get your teams out of the work environment for social interactions. It can be a Friday beer bust, a company picnic, or even a formal social event. Just put the same people, and preferably people from different but cooperating departments someplace where “work” is not being done.
2. Slay Silos
All organizations tend to create silos, most often around teams, be it a small work group or a global division. This is quite natural, but such organizational silos stymie teamwork and team building.
Silos are literally barriers to organizational effectiveness, and thus barriers to morale. It is best to prevent silos from happening rather than tearing them down, though the latter must occur once silos arise.
When people are brought together from across organizations, and they discuss their needs in the framework of the company mission, the need to aid and cooperate helps dissolve silos.
A mutual mission is always the key to people working together, including entire divisions cooperating and supporting one another.
Regular meetings between organizational units fosters teamwork.
“Regular” is the key concept. One-time meetings to force alignment have a short lifetime of effectiveness.
But regular meetings, where the issues of the week/month/quarter/year are placed on the table help people see what is hindering success. Your purchasing team needs to meet regularly with your manufacturing team. Your engineering teams need to meet with your marketing teams.
Anywhere one teams’ work affects other teams is an ongoing opportunity for regular meetings.
People and teams like praise, and they like being recognized for their effort. It sounds simple, but authentic praise is more uplifting than a bonus check.
Rewarding an organization that demonstrates good teamwork encourages the same across other parts of the company. In some companies, cross-functional cooperation can become a competitive streak.
The goal is cross-functional harmony – all parts of the company working cooperatively, and thus raising everybody’s morale in the process.
Regular company activities foster and develop teamwork. Why? Because humans need to know people in order to trust them to be part of any team.
If you took several employees and put them on a team for tug-of-war at the company picnic, they would understand that they can count on the others to (pun intended) pull their weight.
Putting employees who should know, but don’t know one another together on a personal basis expands their willingness to engage one another in their work, and that willingness improves morale.
6. Peer-Apart Recognition
At Micrel, the semiconductor company I founded and led for 37 years, we facilitated employee recognition from across silos. In other words, employees received recognition not from their teammates – they did that too – but from other departments.
We had a program to nominate an “Employee of the Quarter”, the nominations coming from a different department than the one in which the employee works. But this process need not be restricted to individuals.
Entire teams can be recognized in the same way. This concept could be expanded to “Organization of the Quarter” with nominations by other groups within the company organizations.
7. Mixed Meetings
Why restrict a meeting to just people on a team? Have weekly meetings and invite representatives from each organization to attend.
Imagine an engineering team meeting with a representative or two from design, manufacturing, marketing, sales, HR, etc. Expand this even more by conducting “company coordination meetings” whereby cross-team representatives meet to tackle company-wide issues.
This worked very well at Micrel. Just be sure to change-up the invitees, so everyone attends one of these meetings at some point. It is this cycling that makes every employee feel they are contributing and that they are part of the company, not just their work group.
8. Help First
Encourage employees to answer their phone, their emails, any communication, by saying “how can I help you?” Those five simple words change the nature of every interaction, by making assistance the goal.
Knowing that you are likely to be helped, raises your morale because you never become pre-programmed for defeat.
When you make this a company-wide habit, the spirit of helping first prevails. And when every employee knows that everyone in a company is instantly willing, perhaps even anxious to help, morale expands geometrically.
9. First Name Basis
Encourage everyone to learn employees’ first names. This may sound trivial, but familiarity breeds trust.
This minor intimacy is essential to breaking down barriers, and it simultaneously boosts morale.
The Bottom Line
Morale is raised or impeded, boosted or barricaded. It is as important to recognize those things that prevent morale as it is to raise morale.
Recognizing each aspect of morale – confidence, enthusiasm, discipline – their current conditions, and what is making each aspect less than it should be tells you what needs to be done.
For example, morale can fade simply through inattention. If workers don’t think they are appreciated for their effort, then their morale suffers. In our analysis of this particular ailment, a boost – even simple praise – is called for. There were no impediments to morale, but there was a lack of encouragement from management.
On the other side of the coin might be a situation where there is a lack of support for the mission and associated tasks from other groups. This lack of cross-organizational support likely comes from silos – self-created isolation between groups – which can cause morale to suffer greatly due to the feeling of “we have to do this all on our own”. This barrier needs removing to keep morale from rapidly sinking.
External factors too can be a psychological barrier to morale. If changes in your market, your competition, or the economy generate doubt among employees, you need to enhance their belief in survival while knocking down the perceived barriers to success.
Most importantly though is teamwork. The sense of working together is very important for morale.
When an employee strives to complete the organization’s mission, but feels like everyone else is not on the same team – that they are creating barriers and failing in their esprit de corps – morale is impossible.
It is your company’s leadership that has the responsibility to focus everyone on the same mission, clear the barriers to achievement, and reward the team effort. Combined, this creates unbeatable morale.
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