Middle management is not a fun job to have. Your executives give vague guidelines like “We know we have bad morale, YOU fix it.” And the rank and file don’t accept that you don’t set raises and don’t personally have the CEO’s ear so you can tell him to just commit already to a vision. So what do you do? What are some actual practical tips you can use to help you build a team with morale despite the chaos and mixed messages and low pay that you can’t change.

Well, the following three tips won’t change your world over night but hopefully they start to change the tone and attitude of your team week by week. And if they do (and even if they don’t) I’d still love to hear your story in the comments below.

Step 1: Start looking for the strengths and resources you each have

Yes, your team has a million weaknesses and there is always that one person who just does not get it. But step one is sitting down at your desk and writing down the positive attributes that every single member of your team brings to the table. Even the guy you not so secretly want to fire. And if you can’t do that? Well, keep sitting there. This isn’t like in high school where your trying to figure out who has the best smile. Finding the part of each member that is relatable and trustworthy is important and valuable. What makes you trust each member with an account? Or maybe just with bringing the coffee?

This step is important because when we value the people around us, this shows in how we approach conflict, conversations, and ideas. If you don’t respect someone, you don’t respect their ideas, and this can be conveyed in body language in every interaction you have. So think about this, think hard. And remember, this isn’t about respecting someone who does not deserve respect, but it is about slowly starting to change your team culture. Changing culture takes time and changing the way everyone, even the jerk, relates to each other.

Step 2: Be curious about each other as human beings

You know what you like and respect about everyone after step one but now what?  Now you start to get to know one another.You don’t have to start being every one’s best friend, but learning about your people will help foster good will and an understanding. It is easy to believe that you know their names and the basics and now it is just time to get to work. And you can go that route easily enough. However, I doubt you are reading this article if that has been working for you. For example, in software, for a while, AGILE has been the go to word. A big part of that is the weekly stand up where everyone states where they are on their task. This is great as a barometer of where the project is, but where are the people? What’s going on with them?

To start tackling this disconnection problem, the following idea is best with teams that are eight or fewer people. You, as the manager, start by having each person stating a success and a failure each week, it can be work or personal. It’s a great way to find out if the reason so and so was a jerk this week was due to her apartment flooding or because she is bored silly with her assignment. It’s also important, as the boss, for you to participate too. If this is too much, too soon, start with a weekly coffee and bagel gathering where you just chat. My only recommendation is that you are consistent and that it be something that everyone can attend. Alcohol is a great social lubricant but if someone doesn’t want to stay late every week because of kids or a problem, or just because, that is not the best solution. Remember, this is about getting to know each other and about building a community.

Step 3: Be curious outside of the team

Now that you’ve started to respect each other and you actually know and like each other, it’s time to take this to the next level. And that is taking this attitude outside the team. I’ve seen groups where once a month they report back on a conversation they have overheard outside of the office. This helps promote active listening skills. Other teams have an assignment to interview someone in the company once a quarter. This promotes curiosity about other jobs, teams, and people. A third idea is a monthly share and tell with the department on the groups triumphs and failures. This promotes transparency and group spirit. The point is, there are a million activities that can be found online, but that periodically, take some time to be curious and interested about everyone else.

Hopefully, over time, your team will start to come together. There will always be disagreements and complaints but as a middle manager, you can absolutely foster morale and team spirit. And the first step is stepping out of the feeling of helplessness and into a mindset of respect.

Good luck!! Please share your stories below in the comments and if you would like to talk with someone directly about stresses at work or about a workshop for your team, please Call or Request An Appointment today.