There are a lot of times when your team’s morale can be rather low. You may have experienced a series of setbacks, key people may have left for other opportunities, or your team might not even be an actual team yet because they haven’t had a chance to gel with each other.
I’ve seen a lot of managers ignore the state of things when morale is low because they either don’t know any better, don’t know how to have difficult conversations to address the problem, or really don’t care.
If you have a manager in your organization that doesn’t care, my best advice is to manage them out of your org. In the other situations, there are real, concrete ways for a manager to help improve things.
One of the best ways that I’ve found to raise the moral of a team and get them to gel (especially after setbacks) is to literally set them up for a win. Something relatively easy to achieve, but that has meaningful results.
Both of these parts of the equation are important. It should be something that the team can almost certainly achieve without too much stretching (a little stretching is fine if they aren’t totally demoralized), but it also needs to be meaningful. If it’s too difficult to accomplish, your team may become more dispirited. If it’s not meaningful, it won’t have a positive impact on morale (let’s face it. We can all smell bullshit busywork from a mile away).
Ideally, it will be something that the members of your team have voiced actually wanting to do in the past. Maybe it’s paying down some technical debt that has been getting in everyone’s way, but that always seemed to get put off or moved down the priority ladder. Maybe it’s improving performance or any number of other things.
Every team is different, so I can’t give hard and fast suggestions here.
If they don’t have things that they’ve voiced which they’ve wanted to do for a while (if, for example, the team is new), you’re going to have to think of something to fit the bill.
In a perfect world, it’ll be something that will take less than a sprint to do, involves the whole team, and can be viewed as an actual accomplishment. The world isn’t always perfect, but we should try to get it relatively close.
Yes, you want to spend a whole sprint on this if you can.
Yes, I realize that that’s two weeks, but if your team’s morale is in the toilet and stays there, you’re going to lose more than failing to ship a few cards that the product owner decided are the priority this time around.
In fact, this is a discussion you should have with the product owner (and any other important stakeholders) beforehand so they both know what’s going on and can help. At a bare minimum, they should get the message that they are not to try to slide things onto the team during this time or otherwise do things to add to their already high stress levels.
Put it in terms of Enlightened Self-Interest – if they don’t help get the team to a point where they are capable of doing good work again and looking forward to doing that work, well… there are going to be changes of other sorts…
While your team is working on gaining this win, play defense for them more than usual. Remember, the purpose of this is to build their morale back up, so try to shield them from things that are going to have a negative impact on that goal.
Finally, when they achieve their goal, recognize and celebrate it with them.
You should always recognize and celebrate their wins, but it’s especially important to do so now. Otherwise, you just reinforce the notion that nothing that they do matters.
One of the worst bosses I’ve ever had never celebrated any of the victories that his team achieved (no matter how big they were) and paid zero attention to the morale of the team. It was no surprise to anyone except him when basically the entire team left within the span of about a month or so.
Don’t be that person.