Ever come out of a meeting with your team wondering how you managed to zap and squash their enthusiasm? Ever been on the receiving end of such a demoralising meeting? One of my clients (let’s call him H) recently invited me to observe his team meeting for the following reasons:
- As part of the diagnostic phase for the Team Dynamics Coaching offsite we had scheduled for the following month.
- As part of his behavioural assessment for his Leadership Development Coaching programme.
H kicked off the meeting confident, assertive and very excited about where the team was headed. Business was going great and he was keen to motivate the team to aim even higher. The team dynamics session was part of an initiative to boost morale and keep the team engaged, particularly given they had lost a couple of team members in the last month.
At the start of the meeting, the mood was positive. Team members were chatting casually as they walked in, looking keen for the meeting to start. By the end of the meeting, the team collectively looked like a deflated balloon. I mentioned this to one of the team members as she left the room and she said they had hoped for some acknowledgement that they had all been doing more with less (given the recent resignations), only to be met with “we are nowhere near where we need to be”. Rather than boost morale, H had got them stressed. This could have an impact on their future performance.
Neuroscience helps us to understand how stress and low morale can hinder performance.
High expectations lead to pressure to perform. When we are under pressure, our brain experiences a drop in the levels of dopamine, the “happy hormone” that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. This alerts our limbic system activating the fight or flight response which shows up as stress in the workplace. Over time, stress can lead to poor performance, then to decreased confidence, low morale, back to stress and if left unchecked, a vicious cycle of poor performance.
When H and I sat down for a debrief, he acknowledged that the meeting hadn’t gone as he had hoped. He had wanted to build on the success of the last project and motivate the team to aim for even more success, but he ended up with a deflated team.
Sound familiar? This type of disconnect between intent and impact is common, particularly in ambitious leaders. Here are some lessons for H and other ambitious leaders:
The Six Proven Ways to Boost Employee Morale and Drive Performance
- Celebrate successes: When the mood is positive, dopamine levels are high and the prefrontal cortex (which is necessary for creativity, insight and overall cognitive function) is activated. Acknowledging and highlighting wins (however small) creates positivity, an excellent pre-requisite for motivation and engagement.
- Set realistic goals: Savvy leader understand that too much pressure can lead to undue stress which can impact performance. Set realistic but stretching goals, and know your team members well enough to identify what realistic means for them individually so that you can draw out their best performance.
- Break goals down to manageable chunks: Big goals can be daunting. Motivation can be hard to maintain unless goals are broken down to bite-sizes and successes are acknowledged and celebrated along the way. Breaking goals down or chunking them also makes them easier to work on. Who doesn’t like ticking off items on their to-do-list? Remember the Q&A: How long does it take to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
- Practise and encourage positive reappraisal: Great leaders help their people to reappraise when things do not go as planned. Most people are already hard enough on themselves when they fail to meet expectations. Performance discussions should certainly be constructive and clearly identify areas for development but that should be accompanied by a healthy dose of empathy, encouragement and motivation.
- Focus on feedforward: Rather than “here’s where you went wrong…”, try more of “what I would like you to do differently next time…”. Through an effective feedforward process, you can still cover all of the necessary information without making your employee relive the past. Crying over spilt milk only delays time to get fresh milk. Move on, so your employees can move on too!
- Help your team members manage stress: A lot of organisations focus very much on helping employees develop their job skills and build experience but less so on equipping them with tools and techniques to help manage stress. Forward looking organisations are starting to recognise the importance of providing a well-rounded development process and are providing training on brain-friendly techniques such as mindfulness medidation.
Over to you
How do you boost morale in your organisation? Perhaps you’re an employee who has a savvy leader that gets it right. What helps you stay motivated?
If you would like to discuss some of the tips above in more detail or to explore other ways to boost your team morale, get in touch for an informal chat.
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