Leadership

Don't give up on team morale problems

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."

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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.

11 comments
gtkeller
gtkeller

I?m not disagreeing with the information that is in this article or posted as responses, I would like to point out, Project management teams are made up of functional representatives from the company from all different departments, if the project team has bad morale then chances are the project manager is the problem. If there is a specific group or individual on the project team with a morale problem, the project manager should take up the issue with the functional groups manager that is more than likely where the problem stems from. So many times I see the lines between functional manager, team leader or group leader identified as a project or program manager, good communications which promulgates a stead fast direction to support morale will never exist if we do not understand the roles we are to maintain. Fixing a morale problem I believe is far greater than providing a pat on the back or some trinkets of tantalizing shinny metal, I would advise to read all the posting here as they has some very good suggestions.

chaz15
chaz15

1. Encourage your staff whenever, wherever possible. Keep them informed! Don't set impossible schedules!!!! Explain why tasks are relevant/ necessary! 2. Ask about, LISTEN to grievances. Discuss and share genuine problems with the team. People (and you!) can be very understanding! 3. Be helpful, provide friendly advice. 4. Always be prepared to help and assist. 5. Be supportive in every way possible. 6. Give staff responsible tasks,real responsibility. 7. Don't be afraid to delegate. 8. Have a regular forum for people to air grievances. 9. Ensure any criticism is constructive, shown to be constructive AND IS actively necessary. 10. Be bright and cheerful. 11. Absolutely avoid niggling criticisms. Be sure of FACTS, not rumours, impressions etc. Fault A may be very minor, and tolerable, Fault B may be mission critical! 12. Actively and totally support staff if other management criticise, either indirectly via your staff or to you. 13. Go out of your way to praise your staff, your department or yourself where due, AND to management. Managers often have a false view of work or of perspective. 14. Get team members to support each other! 15. Accept blame if due!! 16. Remove or silence disruptive group individuals. 17. Remember and act that everyone is or can be different. Ignore genuine feelings at your peril!! Treat EVERY PERSON with respect and respectfully, if they don't repay this respect, it isn't your fault. PRAISE good work, helpful advice,good suggestions! If your team isn't working at this point, it isn't down to you!! Put on a brave face!!!! If you're doing everything you can do and the team members are, don't fret over outside influences!! Or at least try not to, this can be the most difficult thing to tackle or deal with. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it!! BUT managers may not see it this way!!! HELP!!!! Another REAL TOTAL problem is when a serious problem is kept hidden from you. I don't know any answer to this one. DO keep trying to inspire (AND HELP!!!!) team members!!!!

luz.c.cummings
luz.c.cummings

A manager who appears to listen, understand, appreciate, etc. but is, in fact, just trying to "keep the peace" will be found out. If the managers do not seem to have the time to care for employees, these eventually loose hope and become discontent. It is not just a matter of what the manager says but what the manager does. Praise without tangible rewards are like empty promises, people grow weary of them.

ahaq
ahaq

Hey guys! what if u are in a team that is managed by a project manager who lacks the drive and comittment because he was instructed to manage over a project which he doesnt really want to manage. How can I get him to change his attitude and adopt a positive drive?

kdrungilas
kdrungilas

I agree with your approach to solving team morale problems. In the past as a manager I was assigned a team that had had no leadership for nearly a year. I tried most of the same methods you listed and ended up with great success. It was a tier 2 engineering team and we reduced time-to-close by 40% once the team realized things could improve in the work place. That gave us so much more time for training (greatly desired, but none had happened previously), for more development assistance and for some fun.

mamirza
mamirza

Dear Haq, PM is also a team member and needs motivation. The senior team members may pursue PM to understand that his behaviour is damaging his image & productivity of the team together. PM may agree for delagation to team members and empowerment to salvage the productivity, to reduce the collective damage to project. All the best. Regards. Mirza

midniteone
midniteone

...or better still, his boss? seriously, we all know that motivation is a very personal thing and very difficult to 'kick start' from outside. you don't say why he didn't want the project - could be anything from approaching retirement age (well, maybe not) to enough work already to a job with little technical bite to something which is actually outside his comfort zone. I guess there is a different answer to each of these scenarios. I agree with the parallel comment that WIIFM can do the trick but you might wind up with a very negative 'if I don't do this then things are going to get worse for me' which is going to foster a 'do the minimum to get this one through the gate' and that's really no help to anyone. what you can do really depends on your own status and your relationship with the person. if you have no connection and no influence with them, you just have to grit your teeth and get through this one in the hope that the next one is better...

hga499
hga499

1. Talk to your manager. Ask him if everything is ok. Tell him what you need from him in terms of positive direction, feedback and support. Be polite and focus on your needs. Telling your manager he has a poor attitude is counterproductive and won?t help you meet your goals. 2. Ask the manager how you can help him reach his goals. Make sure you listen well and provide the needed assistance. 3. If you?ve taken these actions, and over time they haven?t worked, go to your manager's boss and ask for assistance. Or, you can go to your Human Resources staff first, to rehearse and gain advice. Be very careful here! Understand that your current boss may never forgive you, so ensure you have done what you can do with him, before taking your issues up the line. 4. You may never hear what your manager's boss or the HR staff did to help solve your manager?s behavior. It?s confidential. But, do allow some time to pass for the actions to have their desired impact. 5. If nothing changes, despite your best efforts, and you think the problem is that they don?t believe you, draw together coworkers who also experience the behavior. Visit your manager's boss to help him see the size and impact of the behavior. 6. If you think the problem is that your manager can?t ? or won?t ? change, ask for a transfer to another department. This recommendation presumes you like your employer and your work. Good luck!

tomdomm
tomdomm

You don't mention if you are working over, under or as a peer to the project manager with poor morale? And all that changes is the approach used. What the article works on improving and what your PM needs is positive track of WIIFM. He has to understand how he gains from the experience. Or what he loses if he fails. The PM is held responsible for the project and is remembered / judged by his last project. Work on his 'Whats In It For Me' make it a positive improvement and things should improve.

rgouvea
rgouvea

I would also point out in some occasions how important is to help make the project a success and to C.V.?s of the persons envolved.

rgouvea
rgouvea

I would also point out in some occasions how important is to help make the project a success and to the persons envolved C.V.

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