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Tried and tested workshop techniques to boost team morale

Stuck in a rut?

team morale

Is your team stuck in a rut? Going nowhere fast? Sinking into a pit of despair?

It can happen when external factors affect your business. Meaning that doing what you’ve always done doesn’t work anymore.

When this happens, it’s easy for team morale to plummet. Team members lose confidence – in themselves, and in the team around them. They stop seeing opportunities and start only seeing problems, risks and failure.

An intervention is required. But this needs sensitive handling. Swooping in with solutions or demanding instant improvements is not going to work.

First you need to help your team into a more positive mindset. Only then will they be able to look the problem in the eye, be creative about to how to solve it, be thoughtful when planning what to do next and be motivated to take action.

I recently ran a workshop with a team in just this sort of funk. A team who had some big and serious issues to tackle. But who felt incapable of doing so.

Here’s how I helped them out of their rut – techniques you can use to boost your team’s morale.

The team in question worked for a charity. Previously high-performing, it was now struggling. The quality of donations to its shops was declining and the increase in online shopping was having an impact on footfall.

Staff were working as hard as ever doing what they’d always done. But they weren’t seeing the same results.

The aim of the workshop was to work out how to turn the situation around. But it was clear they weren’t in the right mindset to start coming up with solutions.

They were dejected and disengaged. Some people had been off work with stress. They’d become risk-averse and their confidence in their own abilities and the ability of the team to do anything to rectify things was through the floor.

So I designed the workshop to help dig them out of the negative hole they were in. To get them to a place where they felt more confident, more in control, more able (and ready) to take action.

1. The power of laughter

As you might imagine, when we began the session, there was a lot of negativity in the room. I needed to do something to break through the cynicism.

Laughter is a very powerful way of creating positive emotions. If I made them laugh, even just a little, that would help lighten the mood and trigger the chemicals that open our minds to creative problem-solving rather than risk aversion.

I asked everyone to write down on a post-it note one fact that the rest of the group didn’t know about them. Then, without speaking, they had to act it out or draw it in 60 seconds for the group to guess.

Now this was a team who’d been working together for years. They felt they knew all there was to know about each other.

So it was with some surprise that they discovered that wasn’t the case. It caused much hilarity and meant everyone was a little more open to what was to come.

2. Clarity about your purpose

I suspected that participants may have been feeling apprehensive about what this session was for. So I was very clear with them from the start about what we would be doing and why. That this workshop was to create an action plan to achieve the organisational goals.

There would be no unpleasant surprises. So people could relax and focus on what we were doing.

3. The path of possibility

Being in a negative space is a vicious circle. You become more risk-averse and less able to spot opportunities. Which has a detrimental effect on your self-confidence. So you become even more risk-averse. And so on. 

Being in a positive place is a virtuous circle. The more you know your own strengths, the more capable you feel. You’re more likely to feel empowered to take action and have faith that it will deliver the results you want.

My task was to take this group from negativity to positivity. But I didn’t want to just do it to them. I wanted them to know and understand that was what we were doing. So I talked them through the research behind this. About the path of limitation and the path of possibility. About how a focus on strengths could create a positive chain reaction.

By providing the evidence behind the activity, I helped participants understand the context of what we were doing. This ‘theoretical’ piece helps those people who have a more theorist and reflective learning style as they need to know more about WHY they are being asked to take a specific approach. It also gives them a useful tool to refer to in the future when they find themselves on the path of limitation.

4. Identifying people’s strengths

Knowing your strengths can really help when you’re facing a challenging situation. But we all tend to be overly harsh on ourselves, not recognising or downplaying our own strengths.

Using ‘At my best’ cards I got each member of the group to talk about a challenging situation they’d been in that they’d overcome. The rest of the group made a note of the strengths they heard described. We went round the whole group and captured all the strengths on a flipchart.

Each individual got a boost to their confidence. And everyone realised that the team as a whole had a huge range of strengths that they could draw on.

5. Making it real

The senior leader who was also attending the workshop then talked to the group about the organisational goal, which was to achieve a specific revenue target. But because this can feel a bit intangible, I brought it to life by illustrating what this figure actually meant for the client group that this charity served. Which tapped into why many of the people worked for this charity – to make a difference to vulnerable people’s lives.

To get your team feeling positive and up for the challenge, it helps to translate your objectives into something that has real meaning and value for them.

6. Owning the situation

If you think something isn’t your problem, why would you take action?

If you want people to solve a problem, they have to feel it’s their problem to solve. That they’re not doing something because you told them to, but because they own the problem.

To do this, we worked through the situation the charity was in using SWOT analysis. Participants wrote down what they thought the situation was and then we analysed this as a group. The team came up with some good, even surprising, insights. It was clear their confidence was building.

7. Action-planning

Flowing from the SWOT analysis, we started to discuss how the team might go about tackling these issues.

We created a long list of issues and then, using a decision matrix, prioritised those that were important and urgent.

Then we worked through these critical issues using De Bono’s thinking hats method to explore each in a detailed and structured way. This prevents people from leaping to a solution too quickly before considering the implications.

8. Reflecting on how far we’ve come

By the end of the session we had SMART action plans for each of the critical issues. But how was the team feeling? Did the goal seem achievable? To which the formerly miserable and incapacitated bunch answered with a resounding YES!

9. Maintaining momentum

One session of course does not a solution make. Back at the coalface, momentum can quickly dissipate.

To maintain team morale and momentum following this workshop, my recommendations were to:

  • Follow up on this activity at the next and subsequent team meetings
  • Explore how people have been using their strengths to deliver against the goal
  • Prompt people on what other strengths they could use
  • Revisit the action plan, making sure people had the support and resources they needed
  • Determine, once critical actions had been completed, what the next priorities were.

If your team is in negative place, simply focusing on what needs to be done to turn things around isn’t enough. You need to change their mindset first.

But by combining practical action-planning methodology with techniques to raise self-awareness and self-confidence you can really help boost team morale.

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