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Brain circuits

Three exercises to gauge your team’s morale

IbyIMD+ Published 1 November 2023 in Brain circuits • 4 min read

High morale makes for better performing teams and higher retention – but how can you find out how satisfied and engaged your staff really are? These tips taken from the armed forces are a good place to start. 

 

Morale is central to performance – in the military and business worlds alike. Companies are using morale to measure the cohesion of teams and gauge the overall health of an organization, at least indirectly. Communication is everything: with the right skills you can gather information about your team’s morale during meetings, and actively engage employees in the workplace. 

Here are three exercises to try: 

1. Apply the one-third, two-thirds rule 

When chairing a meeting, it’s often tempting to take up space and time, maybe to share your vision, set the direction, or just “hold forth”. It is, after all “your meeting”. This is understandable it can be challenging to stay silent, listen, and observe. But maybe there is a better approach, because it’s easier to gather information by listening, not talking.  

Taking a leaf out of military procedures, try following the one-third, two-thirds rule. Of the total time available, the commander should take no more than one third of the time, leaving two thirds for subordinates to speak. In many military cultures a commander breaks this at his or her peril. To do so implies stealing something that rightfully belongs to subordinates and reflects a failure of leadership.  

We often communicate via video or phone, focusing on business tasks at the expense of taking time to build relationships and express an interest in people.

The next time that you are chairing a 60-minute meeting, limit your total airtime to 20 minutes. You can use the rest of the meeting to listen and observe the body language cues of your team members, such as any discrepancies between tone of voice and message. This is especially relevant now that many meetings happen virtually, making it even more challenging to pick up on emotions and intentions. 

Questions to ask yourself include: 

  • Who is taking the workload in their stride? 
  • Who is struggling and exhibiting early signs of anxiety? 
  • Who is talking much but saying little? 
  • Who is disengaged and says nothing at all? 

2. Walk the corridors

As a manager, it can be tempting to stay rooted to your desk where the keyboard and screen allow you to make decisions quickly. This might be comforting, but it’s important to break this routine from time to time. 

“Walking the corridors” is common practice in many military units, where it enables troops to recognize their commander and gives that person a chance to feel the pulse of the workforce. It may stem from the wartime practice of commanders walking the perimeter of a defensive position in the silent hours, when soldiers are often minded to talk more freely and share their opinions, and the presence of the commander can offer reassurance and show commitment (and keep the troops awake). In business, the sentiment might sometimes be similar. We often communicate via video or phone, focusing on business tasks at the expense of taking time to build relationships and express an interest in people.

3. Ask your staff

Finally, how can you assess the level of morale in our organization when so much is happening virtually? Well, how about just asking people? We suggest running this experiment three to four times to improve online communication and move the focus of the discussion beyond business topics. Try offering a scale of 1-10 where 1 is “lower than a snake’s belly” and 10 is “walking on sunshine”. When a figure is declared, follow it up with: and why 6, and what would it take to get to 7? While some people might naturally be uneasy to open up to “the boss”, such a simple question can offer a good conversation starter. In a group it can prompt much debate. But if nothing else, it demonstrates that a leader is interested in the level of morale, which is half the battle and a step closer to victory. 

Further reading: 

Lessons from military leadership: the importance of morale by Francesca Giulia Mereu and Stephen Kilpatrick.

Authors

Francesca Giulia Mereu

Francesca Giulia Mereu

Executive coach

An executive coach with more than 20 years’ experience, Francesca Giulia Mereu is also author of the book Recharge Your Batteries. She regularly works with Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators (CCHN) and at IMD with senior leaders of global organizations. You can follow her LinkedIn Group on managing your energy here.

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