Remember Team Morale During Work Stress

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM with 3 comments

To borrow from Lysander in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the course of true business never did run smooth. Whether we have meticulously planned or just thought things were going well, stuff happens to disrupt the flow of our workday. Where we can’t deny that it can possibly happen, we also can’t deny the impact it can have on the team or people you work with or manage.

Over the years I have lived through many stressful projects and events on the job. When I started out many times I would feel helpless, but as I moved up into manager and leadership roles, I always felt I needed to do something more – not just work hard to resolve the issue, but to ensure the morale of my team was addressed and supported when needed.

When I sat down to write this post, 2 stories immediately came to mind – 1 when I was on the receiving end of great leadership and the other when I took the lead to bolster my team’s morale.

It’s The Grande Things That Matter

When I approached my desk I knew things weren’t going well. A mass of people, from partners to directors, were huddled around where I sat next to my co-manager, whom I’ll call Becky. And the look on Becky’s face this early in the morning supported my concern.

The issue at hand was not a technical error, rather a business choice that was ultimately deemed incorrect, and now Becky, myself and our development team was deemed the critical path to resolve it. It resided in a part of the system that we had never worked on as we had no previous issues with it – the system was developed by consultants and turned over to the team we built from scratch. In the course of about an hour, there were meetings, finger-pointing, passing the buck, denials and a few heated words. But it was ultimately our job to troubleshoot the technology and work with a 3rd party vendor who provided part of the functionality to get the matter resolved.

As the dust settled from the meeting and we were back to our desks to start the triage, in slowly approached our new boss, the director of development, who started work that day. He did not charge in, rolling up his sleeves and diving into the problem, of which he really had less knowledge of than we did. Rather, he gradually approached us, said hi, acknowledged that there wasn’t much he could contribute to the work we were doing but knew we were on it and needed the time to do so.

And he offered to buy us a cup of coffee!

In the train wreck of our day so far, this was like a rainbow leading to a keg of beer next to a pot of gold. He caught us off guard, allowing is to take our mind off the problem for a minute, catch our breath and tell him how we wanted our coffee. That cup of coffee was one of the best I ever drank.

Talk Work And You Buy Your Own Lunch

At this same company, another fire drill happened a short while later. One of the top managers called for a meeting on a topic and wanted not only the managers but most of the development team – even my graphic designer – to attend. When he told me this I pushed back, as many times “all the king’s horses and men” were called out when they really weren’t needed, and I felt this was the case with this meeting as well. We did not need to get to the code and pixel level in this meeting, and as development manager I would work the team to create a solution to the issue.

Despite my common-sense plea, he demanded the team attend, and I apologized to my team as I told them they had to attend. Now I don’t want to brag but I was right – they did not need to attend, the meeting really went nowhere as was often the case and it sucked a couple of hours of our mornings we would never get back. The looks on my team’s faces were painful, and I felt bad for them but there was little I could do.

Well, there was little I could do about the meeting itself. When it ended and we walked back to our area I felt rumblings in my stomach as it was noon-time. So I gathered the team and I offered to take them to lunch at a new Italian restaurant that had opened nearby, and lunch was on the company under 1 condition – during lunch nobody could talk about work, and if they did, they would have to pay for their own meal. Color returned to the faces of everyone as we all walked together to lunch.

At the end of the meal I paid for everyone’s lunch – there was no talk of work at all, but just about every other topic in the universe was covered, from sports to religion to relationships to politics and beyond. We have had many team meetings and many people went out for lunch and drinks after work, but never had there been a gathering quite like this. I feel people got to really know each other a little better, and they were appreciative of my gesture.

Yea Team!

Maintaining positive morale in the workplace takes more thought time than it does in its action. As leaders, you need to be cognizant of it and the actions you take do not need to be grandiose all the time, but timely and appropriate.

I welcome you to share your comments or stories about morale in the comments of this post.


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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.


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