Monday, November 12, 2012

Teams and Morale

It’s a known fact that the higher the morale in a group, the higher the performance and the willingness to endure stress and hard work. Think of the effectiveness of morale in the military - who can hardly be said to experience an ideal work-life balance - or consider the emergency services in New York in the wake of hurricane Sandy, with all the reports of their heroic work and 24hour shifts.

Morale is different to motivation - it's a quality and an attitude that relates more to the group than the individual. Teams with high morale exhibit willingness, creativity, resilience and high levels of camaraderie and inter-personal respect. There is no doubt that facing a mutual danger or challenge with a clear sense of mission also helps.

Sadly work for many has become far more individually focused in recent years. People have their individual tasks, responsibilities and performance targets - and whilst the word team is liberally used in the workplace, there is often very little actual teamwork. A team meeting which discusses things and then hands out tasks for individuals is not really teamwork. Real teamwork is about facing challenges together and performing a task as a team - witness the military and emergency services again.

So I believe there's a strong case for bringing more real teamwork back into organisations again- and that many organisations have gone too far towards a culture of individual accountability. I had a job once as an IT manager for an oil services company - and I remember well that the closest we came to real teamwork was when disaster struck with the 1987 UK hurricane. Everyone rallied to rescue the computers and the valuable oil exploration records that we stored on behalf of major oil companies. There was a high sense of mission and the effect on morale was tangible for weeks.

I'm not saying that you need a disaster to build teamwork - but it's well worth looking for opportunities that involve people thinking, deciding, perspiring and doing together. Just talking and holding meetings somehow doesn't quite do it!

Team tasks that break down barriers between managers, staff and ranks are also important. This was very noticeable in Gareth Malone's recent TV programme about workplace choirs. In watching managers and staff singing together in the Royal Mail you could visibly see the change in morale.

If you take the time to create opportunities for real teamwork in your workplace I am sure you’ll reap the rewards.

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