In a recent episode of the PepTalk podcast Work’s Broken. Mike Robins (author, leadership expert, sought-after speaker and former professional baseball player in the MLB) described playing on some baseball teams where sometimes the talent was amazing, but the results weren't very good.
But then he was on some other teams where the talent was decent but the teamwork was fantastic. They would beat other teams that had better players, which didn't make sense to Robins. He put it down to ‘chemistry’.
According to Robins “No one knew what the heck that [team chemistry] was. But you knew when you had it, and you knew when you didn't have it, and I was really interested in that.”
Call it chemistry or morale or connection or engagement - there is something more to team performance than skills, qualifications, or previous experience.
And before we get side-tracked with the sporting analogy there are decades of research and volumes of reports that shows how firms manage their people provides a real and enduring source of competitive advantage.
TL;DR - Morale applies to more places than the sporting arenas.
- Gallup - Investors, Take Note: Engagement Boosts Earnings
- “The Human Equation” Jeffrey Pfeffer [one of the most comprehensive views of the connection between people-centred management practises and organisational performance.]
Why should managers be concerned with employee morale?
Team chemistry and morale are those intangible, x-factor qualities that are crucial parts of winning when present, and an obvious cause of defeat when it’s absent.
In fact, it’s probably easier to spot when it’s absent.
We tend not to want to be part of something if the chemistry isn’t there or the morale is low. Good results are harder to come by and even harder to maintain if the people on the team just can’t seem to click.
When things are going well we tend to underestimate the role chemistry and morale played in the victory. We like to think it’s because of our skills, our qualifications, our previous experience when it was more than likely because we cared about the people on the team and had each other's backs.
If we look at the definition of morale it’s
‘the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time.’
It has nothing to do with skills, qualifications, or experience - it’s more about a mental state.
So, how can we identify if morale is positive/improving and contributing to success?
Or more importantly, what can we do if it is absent and hindering performance?
What companies have typically done is
- Use key performance indicators KPIs gathered by a manager
- Use a company wide annual engagement survey
The first one is too narrow and doesn’t consider the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person.
The second is too general with the detail being buried in the middle of an average figure or bell curve.
Both of these methods are retrospective and tell you nothing about where your organisation is today.
If getting a handle on chemistry and morale is so important to success, why are organisations so bad at assessing where their people are at?
The good news is that things are changing. Even before the pandemic organisations were beginning to shift towards more regular check-ins with staff. You can see from this chart that the annual engagement survey is unlikely to be done away with but companies are beginning to collect other data more frequently from employees.
How can managers boost employee morale?
For your organisation, the best way we can think you can influence team performance is through managers and business leaders, specifically targeting morale and engagement.
Collecting data has never been a problem. It’s turning that data into insight and creating the required action that has always been the stumbling block.
This requires asking better questions and knowing what to do with the answers.
Here are three steps to helping your manager positively influence team morale.
1 - Regular Team Check-in
As we saw in the graph earlier, companies are already moving in this direction.
Regular Check-ins are a great way to gauge morale and happiness in your team.
2 - Turning Insight into Action
Organisations have known for the longest time that their engagement [and probably by association, morale] is low and/or falling. This has been exacerbated in a lot of cases by the pandemic.
Relying on the annual engagement survey is not enough. A once a year, a mountain of data could take months to turn into a set of actions.
Unless the actions are tailored to teams, they are likely doomed to failure.
It is totally unrealistic to believe that a whole organisation with a variety of different functions and priorities can focus on the same things.
Team culture should be the focus, not company culture. Regular Team Check-Ins provide specific areas for your teams to focus on. It’s important you follow up, quickly with actions to address these focus areas.
Here are some ideas of actions you can take.
3 - Think about the person beyond the role
We tend to put success in front of happiness, one will lead to the other. Yet all the research shows happiness is generally the front runner to success. You'll rarely find a championship-winning side with morale on the floor but it's not uncommon to find successful/rich people totally unfulfilled and unhappy.
How often do we ask our team about how they felt last month? How do they feel about the month ahead? And what areas do they need to focus on to make work a better place?
We are not asking to see their to-do list. We want to know about the person.
An employee's relationship with their manager is often the major input into the person’s satisfaction in work. According to McKinsey employee satisfaction is positively correlated with performance and not just work but life satisfaction too. And most importantly, the relationship with their manager is the main driver of satisfaction.
Bad bosses are literally hurting your people - it's very hard to smile when you are stressed.
A study of 3,122 Swedish male employees found that those who work for toxic bosses were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening cardiac condition.
Other studies in American workplaces show that people with toxic bosses are more susceptible to chronic stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which increase the risk of a lowered immune system, colds, strokes, and even heart attacks.
We're here to help
Peptalk is a unique team engagement and action platform that enables teams to perform at their best. We provide teams with monthly data, insights and actions, available at a touch of a button, specifically aimed at enhanced teamwork and increased engagement. You can find out more about what we offer HERE.