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Published on October 15, 2018

How Teamwork in the Workplace Boosts Morale and Delivers Results

How Teamwork in the Workplace Boosts Morale and Delivers Results

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:

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1. Play

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.

3. Meet

Regular meetings between organizational units fosters teamwork.

“Regular” is the key concept. One-time meetings to force alignment have a short lifetime of effectiveness.

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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.

4. Recognition

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.

5. Activities

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.

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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.

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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.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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