Times are tough, and as a result, morale can suffer. So what can the leaders of an organization do to help team members feel more confident and at ease? Below are a few simple tips to improve teamwork and morale -- especially in a recession (or depression):
Give Sincere Compliments
When times are tough, we can easily be distracted (sometimes just trying to stay above water). That is the time that your team members need reassurance, and a sincere compliment can go a long way in helping your team feel more comfortable. Remember that the team member doesn’t have to be perfect — just improving.
Most managers and leaders follow the "If you don't hear anything from me, assume that you are doing a good job" model. There are a few problems with this model, though. The biggest problem is that if your team only hears from you when when they make mistakes, they will begin to avoid you and withhold important information -- "If I share this information with my boss and it is good news, he won't give me credit, and if it's bad news, he'll hold be accountable, so I'll just keep it to myself." There is no incentive to share information. Another big problem is that a criticism only approach will stunt the growth of your team members. When a team member takes a risk, has a success and gets praised, then his/her confidence will grow. However, if that risk is likely to lead to criticism, then the team member will likely avoid the risk. So as Dale Carnegie said, "Be lavish in your praise."
People fear the unknown a lot more than reality in most cases. If your team knows what’s wrong, they can often help you fix it. Often, leaders will try to protect the team by keeping negative information to himself/herself, which just makes the team wonder what you are hiding. Fear causes people to react aggressively, so share information, and your team will help you.
Let's say that you walk into your kitchen really late at night, and it's pitch black. You hear a rustling sound in the corner. It could be the wind from a window left open, it could be a rodent, or it could be a burglar. Since you are not sure exactly what made the sound, you'll likely prepare for the worst and grab a golf club before you turn on the light. You flip on the light and a little teenie-tiny mouse darts across the counter. You start swinging the golf club to no avail. A mouse in the kitchen is pretty bad, but not nearly as bad as an intruder. Because the cause was unknown, you weren't able to prepare for it well. The fear that we have when we don't have enough information will cause us to make improper decisions and make mistakes, so it's best to share information with your team and let them help create a solution. Just like in this example, once you know what the problem is, the solution to the problem is fair easy to create.
Set a Goal
A shared goal can help the team work together toward a common result. A number of small successes can improve morale dramatically. The goal doesn't have to be anything Earth-shattering. In fact, it might be something as simple as earning an additional 1000 Facebook Fans this month or having all of the cash registers balance for an entire week. Whatever the goal, though, it needs to be something that everyone has a stake in. Once the goal is reached and a reward is given, all who participated will feel a sense of accomplishment.
Challenges are often opportunities in disguise. When challenges develop, get your team together and brain-storm solutions. One big idea can open up additional revenue streams.
If your team is experiencing challenges in a down economy, there is a good chance that your competitors are experiencing them as well, so the team who overcomes the most challenges will have a competitive advantage now and an increased advantage as the economy turns around. 20-minute or 30-minute brain-storming sessions from time to time can help harness the creativity of your team, solve problems, and increase morale all at the same time. In these sessions, spend just a minute or so talking about the problem. Then quickly move to what the CAUSES of the problem might be. the more causes that you can identify, the more creative (and clear) your solutions will be. Once the team understands what has caused the problem, possible solutions will flow. Then you just have to pick which of the possible solutions is most likely to lead to success.
Regardless of whether the solution creates the new iPad or not, the process will be great for morale -- especially if the solution is implemented and leads to a successful outcome.
Get your team working toward a common goal by praising them and working on tough challenges together. Your team culture will grow, and you will be way ahead of the game when things turn around.
Doug Staneart is the founder of The Leader’s Institute Team Building and the inventor of many world-famous team building events like the Build-A-Bike Charity Team Building event and the Camaraderie Quest High-Tech Scavenger Hunt. His team of expert facilitators conduct events for groups as small as 20 people and as big as 10,000 people. Visit the Team Building Event website for details about his programs.