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Morale Dilemma: Keeping Teams Energized and Focused, Nine Months Later


So, this has gone on longer than anyone expected.

Right. WFH is no longer a temporary status update - it’s been nearly nine months for most organizations in the US and shows no signs of changing. Throughout the shift from “we need to do this for the time being” to “we’ll be doing this for the foreseeable future,” nonprofit leaders have had to learn to effectively manage a remote working environment without one major ingredient: an environment. 

While teams may still be connected, they’re not necessarily connecting. Gone are the “water cooler” conversations and incidental encounters that were built into the typical work day - the kind that didn’t require a conscious decision and a web link. The absence of a communal workplace has all but eliminated the opportunity for spontaneous exchanges that - like it or not- are important to our work and to our lives. Back-to-back zoom meetings may help check off to-do list items, but they do little to enhance working relationships. As important and useful as technology has become, it is no replacement for shared physical space. 


Where does morale come in? 

Though teams may see or hear each other through screens all day, a lack of physical presence can affect the way members work together and how they treat each other - and makes it harder for leaders to pick up the group’s vibes. Working in silos, especially for teams that are used to operating in a shared location, can become a real downer and nonprofit leaders are recognizing the need for morale boosts and ways to maintain team spirit. A quick Google search provides a plethora of suggestions including organizing Zoom happy hours, encouraging breaks, and sending lottery scratch offs. But even the most novel, well-meaning gestures can lose their luster after a while.  


What else has been happening?

Another issue that comes up for teams working remotely - especially during a time when everything is continuously changing and shifting in response to world events - is maintaining focus. I don’t mean whether team members are checking their Facebook and Twitter accounts every 5 minutes. I’m talking about organizational focus. Asking questions like: “What are we doing here? How has this changed/stayed the same in 2020? Why are we doing what we’re doing? What did we have to stop doing in order to stay in business, to stay relevant, or to meet new needs? What can the past 9 months tell us about how we ought to be moving forward in the future?”

These big-picture questions need time and space on the shared calendar. Even with so much uncertainty looming, teams do have a lot of information if they are willing to recognize it. Rather than buckling down and powering through, organizations would do well to regularly reflect and evaluate everything that’s been happening along the way. There are important lessons to be learned through all of this and the last thing we should want to do is squander a perfectly good pandemic. 


I feel a suggestion coming on.

Taking on morale and focus together can be accomplished by heading straight back to the basics: mission, vision, and values (M/V/V). Spending time thinking about, reflecting on, and evaluating the M/V/V as a group - in the context of today’s reality - is an important team-building exercise that ticks off both boxes. Improve morale by asking for personal insights and suggestions and giving workers the opportunity to be heard and understood. Restore focus by galvanizing everyone around the same purpose and clarifying the main priorities. Even if the daily work is hard and it’s going to remain hard, helping team members feel seen and rally around a common understanding of where they are headed can make this time more bearable. 


What if I'm pretty sure everyone "gets" it already?

Take nothing for granted. Even if it is believed that everyone is on the “same page” or that nothing about the mission/vision/values has changed, taking the time for review gets people talking in a targeted way that focuses on the big picture, not the minutiae. M/V/V work keeps the attention on purpose instead of processes or people.  Leaders will have an opportunity to listen for emerging themes, gain insights about team members, and identify new ways of thinking about current situations. 

At times like these, when leaders have the responsibility to simultaneously care for and motivate a suddenly-disjointed team, the strong move is to become an avid listener and a facilitator for connection (of people and ideas) where there often is none. 

Is there a workshop? 

Yes! Learn more about effective M/V/V reviews at this Friday’s (Dec. 11th) workshop at Noon EST. Participants receive a 12-page step-by-step workbook, guidance on how to take teams through the process, questions to ask regarding recent events, and suggestions for what to do with the results. The workshop will be an opportunity to take a look at the steps together, get specific questions answered, and tackle any obstacles you foresee along the way. Advance registration is required at Or just get the workbook here: Mission Control


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