In today's world sustaining morale is a hot topic. As we consider the variations of hybrid working, remote working, and what happens next: we need to have those very adult to adult conversations that support managers to lead in ambiguity and manage with policies that are not one size fits all.
So we look at morale, and motivation, we look at engagement and productivity. There are some things that each and every one of us can do, no matter our industry, no matter our job role. We can do these for ourselves and for each other. We can do these to ensure that we build, sustain, and bring back morale, even when the times get tough.
The first thing we can do is acknowledge and recognise the small wins. These might be personal, or they might be professional.
This is a really quick and easy way that you could start any team meeting, especially in this virtual world where you can capture a lot of information and a lot of answers at once by using the chat function. Why don't you try getting into the habit of starting your team meeting (be they weekly or monthly or even daily) by collecting successes. Get each and every one of your team members to name and put in the chat one small success from the last time you were all together.
Small wins could be big and task related, or it could be small and personal. One easy brain trick used with many of our clients is a daily count of five small wins for each and every day. When you head to bed each night, hold out your hand and count to five by pressing each of your fingers on one hand. With each count, name a small win for the day - personal and professional. The repetition will create a habit of recognising success, and the habit will increase your ability to spot positives all over the place. We want to spot the positives as research shows that motivation is directly linked to our sense of progress. Progress leads to motivation and motivation leads to positive morale. As we move through 2021 and learn what work and the world looks like now, we notice that it is this feeling of progress that has been missing as we stay safe at home, and pause much activity until we know what's safe to do. So here's one way you can help yourself, your family, and your teams to notice progress and build from motivation from there.
A personal example of a small success is that I know that for me, sometimes even just doing the washing up feels insurmountable. Whilst working from home the kitchen is my safe space and my down time, away from a screen. But, if there is a pile of washing up, my kitchen becomes psychologically unsafe and very judgey. If I can persuade myself to do the washing then, I feel much happier about life, and note the progress. If we look at the neuroscience behind progress as a motivating and morale boosting factor, we can see that doing the washing up successfully boosts the chemical release of dopamine in my brain - the hormone that celebrates taking action. If I then celebrate this small win with another person and they help me recognise it - without making it feel small - my brain will then also release both serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin brings a feeling of pride and success, which motivates me to take the next small action. The oxytocin is the trust-building, bonding chemical, flooding my system with contagious feel good vibes that spur me on to the next interaction with purpose and wellbeing. And that's just by doing the washing up....so small wins may seem small in isolation but the act of recognising and celebrating them - especially in a team setting - can have a very large, and very lasting positive effect on boosting morale.
Take a break
The second thing we can do is protect space and protect time. At the end of April 2021, Microsoft released new research that looks at brain activity whilst doing a day of virtual meetings and the difference there is in functionality if you take a break...or if you do not. They share a heatmap (below) demonstrating cognitive ability diminishing the more virtual back to back meetings you have. So now we know for sure - rather than just knowing this in ourselves - it is our role as leaders to make taking a break both structurally and culturally, THE thing to do. We need to embed the idea that taking five or ten minutes is not only an acceptable thing to do, but it's an expected thing to do for the benefit of the organisation.
In sharing this research with a set of more junior managers and a group of the most senior leaders on the same day, I observed a real difference in how palatable each group thought 'taking a break' would be in their workplace....the junior managers laughed at the impossibility of taking a break, the senior leaders not only managed to take a short break, but took longer than the suggested 3-4 minutes outside. This suggests that although you corporately 'give permission' you need to do more than that to make it actually happen. You can lead by example, and don't do this secretly. Do it loudly, do it ostentatiously, and make sure that other people know that it's not only possible, but welcome and valued as good business.
The third thing we can do is recognise strengths in each other. At t-three we call this a 'strengths shower.'
Often we take our natural strengths for granted, we don't notice our strengths as anything out of the ordinary or worth celebrating. Our natural strengths are often the things that come naturally easily and smoothly to us. We think that everybody can do these things, but that's not true. Its not something everybody can do and your colleagues are likely to value this in you more than you know.
What's a strengths shower I hear you ask? Depending on the size of your team, this can take 10 minutes or 30. First, get everyone to write down the name of every other person in the team/meeting. Second, allow 3-4 minutes of thinking time - no talking - for everyone to write a single, personalised strength under the name of everyone else. Then, start with one individual, and in turn, 'shower' them in their own strengths, asking each person to verbally share the strength they have spotted in that person and why its valuable to them. The person receiving the strengths shower says thank you, and then you repeat the process with the next person. If you can, catch all the strengths in writing so you can share these with each member so they have something in writing to reflect upon for weeks to come. If we look back at our morale boosting chemicals, a strengths shower lights up both oxytocin and serotonin again - building confidence and increasing team bonding. These feel great in the moment AND it is something that they can then take away with them for when the going gets tough.
As the world starts to reopen or ramp up, each of us and our organisations are starting to explore and make decisions around remote versus hybrid versus in person and what happens next. It's now up to you as a leader and people-person to bring these ideas together, sustain motivation, and boost morale.
Here are two rules of thumb that can do nothing but help you get to where you want to go:
1. Make your implicit explicit, and
2. Slow down to get more done.