If you’ve ever taken on a leadership role, then it’s unlikely that knowing “how to fix a team that’s falling apart” was on the job spec.
It’s an issue that every boss hopes they never have to deal with, but the issue of falling morale is a challenge that all face at least in some point of their career.
Some leaders incorrectly see low morale as a personal insult, when in fact it is a matter of numerous professional and environmental factors that can be solved.
Indeed, low team morale doesn’t have to spell disaster.
To paraphrase almost every 1990s leadership self-help book: It’s not the setback that defines you, but the way you deal with it.
The problem is that the answer to the challenge of fixing low team morale might not always be super obvious.
When it comes to a dysfunctional team, the first step is spotting the warning signs. Like with many problems in life, the sooner you notice it the better.
Arnold H. Glasow, an American author, may not be the first person you turn to for business inspiration, but he was correct when he said this:
“One of the tests of leadership is recognizing a problem before it becomes an emergency.”
-- Frequent negative verbal comments including sarcasm, passive aggression, and malicious gossip.
-- A culture where nobody speaks up. People are discouraged from sharing their opinion or they self-censor, like when they stop themselves from saying something critical in mid-sentence.
If one or more of these issues is happening in your workplace, then it’s probably on the slippery slope to a destructive working environment.
Noticing it is one thing, but knowing how to fix a team that is falling apart is quite another.
But instead of sounding the alarm and rushing to put out potential fires, it’s best to hold back and take a deep breath.
Effective, long-lasting change is a slow process, which is best done calmly, via a measured, step-by-step process.
If you can pull this off effectively, then you’ll put yourself ahead of the 61% of business leaders who, according to PwC’s Global Crisis Survey 2021, failed to have a crisis communications plan in place in 2020.
When creating a new work environment, setting out a clear framework for employees to abide by should be a central theme.
In a 2020 study, the international peer-reviewed journal BMJ Leader carried out extensive research into what helps healthcare leaders in times of crisis.
They came up with several tenets that we can transfer to the world of business, including:
By bearing these principles in mind, we can draw up an action plan on how to fix a team that’s falling apart; in short, a framework that provides guidance to employees without preaching to them about where things have gone wrong.
The buck stops with you.
These are only five words, but the way you react to them is crucial to making real progress. If you allow them to intimidate you, then fear may cloud your thinking or even paralyze you.
Instead, accept that you’re responsible for what happens in the office and that the current predicament is down to you.
Once you do this, the feeling can be quite liberating. Rather than searching for someone to blame, you know that it’s up to you to find a way out of it.
Look in the mirror and honestly ask yourself what you can change about your performance. What could you have done better to prevent the team from falling apart, and how can you fix it? What can you change about your own working methods? What type of team do you need to create going forward?
Then, look at how your team members can help you do this.
If there’s one thing that people like, it’s being made to feel important.
One of the easiest ways of doing that is to give them time, and plenty of it. According to the Harvard Business Review, leaders should set aside between 30 and 60 minutes in their diary per week for each team member.
The benefits of this will work both ways: they feel valued and that you’re listening to their concerns, while you get to find out more about them, and how you can use their strengths to get the team working better as a whole.
Setting aside this hour gives them enough time to air complaints and express opinions on how to improve things; it also means you don’t have to rush things along to get to another tightly-scheduled appointment.
Give your colleagues plenty of notice beforehand, and tell them what the conversation is going to be about. Hastily arranged meetings tend to put people on the defensive as they don’t get time to think about what they want to say.
Many people mistakenly believe that great leaders must be oracles of wisdom that impart their genius to their team of awestruck subordinates, but true wisdom lies in listening and learning from others, then using that information to make decisions.
When face-to-face with your team member, the first step here is to be humble enough to apologize, hold your hands up, and admit your role in the current predicament.
This will sweep away any defensive thoughts they might have arrived with, and they’ll feel encouraged by your transparency.
Then, just listen to what they have to say.
Active listening is paramount here, and you can achieve it in a few simple steps.
Doing this properly will reap the rewards in terms of understanding your team and gaining their respect. It will also make the next step much easier.
As meetings near an end, setting out a constructive next step is key.
How can you use what you’ve just learned to make this individual a part of the solution?
Whichever step you choose to take, make sure it’s based on a small, achievable task. This fosters motivation and momentum as opposed to more elaborate activities that might have the opposite effect.
Task management tools are a great way of getting everyone on the same page. The likes of Trello and Asana offer easy-to-use software that makes collaboration organized and visual, so that everyone knows where they stand.
It might sound obvious, but fixing a team that’s falling apart involves making each member feel like they’re part of a team. If you can link each task, no matter how small, to being a valuable contribution to the organization’s new strategy, then you’ll have hit the winning formula.
Taking the time to sit down, look your team in the eye, and forge a route out of crises together is a fantastic example of solid communication.
The challenge is to cultivate this as a collective mentality.
The first step is to follow the discussions about the new work environment with a quick email, thanking your colleagues for their time, outlining the new strategy, and stressing how they are going to be part of it.
Next, the emphasis needs to be on maintaining this new dynamic.
Regular, short, and focused meetings are essential: not only do they keep objectives fresh in everyone’s minds, but they also foster togetherness.
Forming these positive communicative habits is essential in establishing the new foundations of your business culture. Nurturing them each day is the best way toward preventing a repeat of past troubles, and taking your business to new heights.
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