4 Subtle Habits That Influence Team Morale — And How Best to Implement Them

a woman at a desk with her hands up


Anouare Abdou for Hive
Anouare Abdou for Hive
May 24, 2024 at 12:34PM UTC
If you are a leader in this day and age, you know you should care about team morale. Perhaps you’re even investing in driving big organizational changes to build workplace culture and improve employee engagement. But there are also small and daily actions that can have just as much – if not more – impact on morale.
“Morale can be inspired with the joy of the simple things, or deflated with one disrespectful comment. Either way, these simple influences on team morale change the tone for an entire meeting, an entire day, or an entire team,” says Erika Duncan, an HR executive with over 20 years of experience and the co-founder of People On Point.
“Each interaction allows for the opportunity to enhance the day and make it great, or detract from an in-progress great day. The tone is set instantaneously and it takes little effort – but a lot of intentionalities – to set a tone that demonstrates inclusivity, respect, curiosity, and willingness.”
Want to set the right tone with your team? Here are four subtle yet powerful habits that influence team morale and that should be on your radar on a regular basis when you interact with your team.

1. Social cues.

“Daily habits like smiling on phone calls, firm handshakes, nodding with affirmation, being on time, and including everyone in conversations are so basic yet so imperative to build morale,” according to Duncan.
These types of gestures fall in the category of social cues, which are ways we communicate through our body language and expressions without saying a word. These cues can breed a greater sense of connection and inclusivity in your team, improving morale in the process – and they are even more important in remote settings.
The results of a Harvard Business Review study on the science of building great teams support this: Successful teams share characteristics such as everyone on the team talking and listening in roughly equal measure, team members connecting with each other and not only the leader, and energetic team conversations and gestures.

2. Feedback delivery.

Dr. Oksana Hagerty, an educational and developmental psychologist who serves as a learning specialist and the director of the Center for Student Success at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, says that the way you deliver feedback contributes directly to team morale too.
According to her, there are three crucial habits to embrace when it comes to giving negative feedback.

Only give negative feedback in private.

“Never correct mistakes in public. Nobody other than the person being corrected should hear what you have to say or even see the conversation,” says Hagerty. Sharing negative feedback in a group setting can make a team member feel humiliated and sets the stage for resentment and unhealthy dynamics. The opposite is also true.

Avoid giving negative feedback when you’re angry.

Accidentally saying something you don’t mean during an emotionally charged feedback conversation can damage trust. Focus on getting into a neutral emotional state and grounding yourself before giving feedback to a team member.

Always give feedback as things come up.

Hagerty says that it’s easy to brush things off and avoid mentioning something that you notice about someone’s work, especially with your top performers or if your team is doing well overall, but it’s still important to share feedback on a regular basis and as things come up. That consistency builds psychological safety in your team by setting clear expectations and supporting people in their efforts to improve performance.

3. Adding a personal touch.

Adding a personal touch to your interactions with team members can go a long way for boosting morale. Underrated habits that are simple yet profound include using someone’s name out loud in a conversation or remembering important life events and following up on them, says Duncan. This can look like organizing a thoughtful group gift for a teammate getting married or simply remembering the names of your coworker’s children and asking about them.

4. Authentic empathy.

Showing empathy is always key when morale is involved. Demonstrating empathy through your words or actions deepens trust and makes your team feel valued and seen. But it needs to be genuine.
“It’s important to both celebrate and agonize with your team – empathetically and authentically,” says Duncan. “The foundation of morale is team trust. This needs to be built both individually as well as collectively, so that team members feel and observe [behaviors like empathy.]”
This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for boosting team morale? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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