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Brain Circuits

Lessons on team building from the original pioneers of the topic

IbyIMD+Published 5 July 2023 in Brain Circuits • 3 min read

We talk a lot in business about team building, creating a strong culture, and cultivating an environment where employees can rise to their potential. We also talk a lot about how to navigate crises. For the answer to these questions, it pays to look to organizations that have been around for centuries.

For today’s brain circuit, imagine a rather uncomfortable scenario for an executive:

Sit back and imagine your entire team was given to you in the course of a couple of weeks. You had no say in the selection process, your team is diverse and unfamiliar with one another, and in the very near future you are likely to have to handle a high-stakes crisis together. How would you handle this?

If you found yourself asking what kind of business would allow this to happen, the answer is the military. And while you haven’t signed up for this type of situation, there is a lot to be learned from those who have weathered it.

How does one lead in this situation?

The answer is morale.

Morale, or sense of well-being, is a key feature of a soldier’s life. Soldiers are asked to behave in a certain way, both individually and collectively, often in physical discomfort or under emotional stress. To do so, they must be motivated and energized to perform those tasks – often at considerable personal risk. Whilst motivation can come through coercion, the energy to engage and stay engaged can only come from a sense of well-being and purpose, a conviction that the task is worth the effort.

How do you cultivate morale? There is no one answer for every group, but the following elements must be considered:

Purpose comes first. If your company hasn’t set a strategy with a purpose at its core, it should be your first line of attack. People in any situation need to have an idea of what they are working towards; it’s this common goal that allows teams to bond and find common ground.

Ensure the flow of information is timely and in all directions. This means leadership must communicate regularly with all levels of the organization. If you are a CEO, make sure you visit the shop floor in addition to your executive offices and have something meaningful to say.

Care about time off as much as work. Employees take cues both directly and indirectly from leadership. Managers need to use their time off and respect work-life balance, so the rest of their teams see that it is okay to do the same.

Strike a balance. In a relaxed regime, the morale of a poorly disciplined unit can only hold up for so long until it is undermined. Similarly, a unit operating under a highly strict regime might function well for a while, until the highly restrictive atmosphere will overcome a sense of well-being and reduce morale overall, affecting the ability of the group to operate.

Be a secure base. Just because you can’t be everyone’s best friend doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create the trust and safe space your employees need to be able to express their ideas and ask for help with challenges.

The challenge for leaders is to consider all the factors that influence morale, such as the intensity of work, training and development, team building, creating trust, ensuring employees pursue rest and recovery, and investment in career management.

Further reading: 

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


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