Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't give up on team morale problems

Takeaway: Project managers should keep their eyes open for morale problems and look for ways to turn things around. Here are some suggestions.

Have you been the project manager for a team that had poor morale? I'm not referring to one malcontent. I'm talking about a team that has a pervasive morale problem. You may see symptoms of poor morale in the way team members respond to you, their lack of enthusiasm, or if they get angry at small matters, etc. The thing about poor morale is that people don't like to keep it to themselves. If one team member has poor morale, he wants to spread that fact so that others will come over to his side. As they say, "Misery loves company."

Morale problems don't happen overnight, and they can't be resolved overnight. Sometimes the morale problems are caused by the project itself. Other times the causes are out of your control. This could be the case when a company has lower revenue or staff cutbacks. However, even if the causes are not in your control (and remember many times they are) you have to take action. Here are some examples of how to address morale problems.

  • Be a good listener. You'll find that the simple act of listening will help people's morale. It shows that you at least recognize the problems and are concerned.
  • Say "thank you" for good contributions. If team members feel that the project manager recognizes their contributions, it will go a long way toward helping them feel better about their situation.
  • Assign more challenging work. This is a tough one because, in most cases, the work is the work and you can't change the basic nature of that work. However, there are some things you can do to introduce new challenges. For instance, you can rotate people into new roles. If two people have done the same job for a long time, switch them. This gives each person an opportunity to learn new skills and new areas of expertise, while also giving you more backup coverage. You can also give people more responsibility. This might include letting new people manage the budget for the team, putting people in charge of subteams, and assigning new people to manage the work of contractors.
  • Provide opportunities to learn new technologies. You can try to rotate people into new technologies, switch responsibilities to allow people to learn new skills, and increase the training opportunities.
  • Make sure people know what's expected of them. You should make sure people are clear on what their job responsibilities are, what their current work activities are, and how their contributions help the entire project to be successful.
  • Offer more flexibility. Allowing people more control over their jobs and lives can help morale. Offer flextime options or some form of telecommuting.
  • Get the right equipment. Make sure people have the right hardware and software they need to do their jobs. It's especially frustrating for people to work on slow equipment, especially when hardware is so cheap.
  • Look for opportunities to have fun. Let’s not forget this one. Look for an opportunity for a social events, pizza parties, birthday cakes, etc.
  • Solicit opinions and ideas from employees. The project manager should encourage team members to become involved and offer their insights on assignments. If team members feel like their opinions and ideas are valuable, they will feel better about their situation.

Project managers should keep their eyes open for morale problems and look for ways to turn things around. Regardless of the limitations of your role, there are always some things that are within your control.

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