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Taking Over a Low Morale Team

A high morale team will not necessarily save a bad strategy, but a low morale team will most likely destroy a good strategy.

Unhappy, angry, and apathetic. It is not unusual that a brand new leader walks into an unhappy, angry or apathetic team. What that new leader does early will often determine the trajectory of that team and that new leader’s career.

Sometimes a new leader follows a leader everyone loved and admired. But just as often new leaders walk into bad situations created by the previous leader. Many times, if the last leader had done things better, the new leader wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to lead the team.

What do you do if you are the new leader and everyone on the team is unhappy, angry, or worse – apathetic?

Get To Know Them

Don’t rely on what you think you know about them. You might hear rumors, or the previous leader might send you personnel files. Put those aside and start from a clean slate. Let each person know they have an opportunity to start fresh. Ask about their families, their past accomplishments, and their future aspirations. I always took notes and reviewed them before each conversation, until I remembered their details without needing the notes. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Let them know you care about them as individuals by taking the time to get to know them.

Establish A Feedback Loop

People on low morale teams often feel like they were not heard by the previous leader. Most people don’t need to get their way. They just want to believe someone is actually listening to their way and considering what they have to say. We teach leaders to use Start/Stop/Continue workshops at least every six months to establish a consistent feedback loop between the leader and those being led. It is as simple as asking three questions:

● What do I/we need to start doing?

● What do I/we need to stop doing?

● What do I/we need to continue doing?

The first Start/Stop/Continue workshop is critical. If the new leader argues with the feedback, that team will probably never give honest feedback again. As a new leader, your job is to listen, take notes, and ask some clarifying questions so you better understand.

You may not be able to change everything they bring to the table, but what if you could change a couple of things they see as a problem? That could earn you some immediate credibility, and motivate them to continue bringing you feedback.

Celebrate Some Early Wins

Most people, on most teams, are doing 90% of their jobs pretty well. A new leader should take the opportunity to find those moments and celebrate them. I am not talking about having a party. I am talking about taking the time to say, “Great job! I appreciate how you took care of that customer.” Or “Thanks for always getting that report in before the deadline.”

Praising people for the little things, right when you notice them, will go a long way in changing morale. On low morale teams, people often wonder if anyone notices what is going well. They need to know someone is paying attention to the good stuff they are doing. They need to feel like they are winning. Find those small wins and recognize them daily.

Ask yourself, “Who did I encourage today?”

New leaders have a great opportunity to change the trajectory of their teams. That change could alter the trajectory of someone’s career. It will take intentionality from the leader to alter the course of that team. A high morale team will not necessarily save a bad strategy, but a low morale team will most likely destroy a good strategy. Too many new leaders focus on the strategy and not the people. Get to know them. Establish a feedback loop. And celebrate some early wins. New leaders who take these steps will see that team grow and win more often with whatever strategy they execute.

Dig Deep Questions:

● When have you seen poor morale kill a good strategy?

● Who is responsible for the morale of a team?


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Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

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