Operational Excellence

Keeping Team Morale High During Slow Times

by Brad Egeland, December 15, 2014

No one is busy 100% of the time. And that’s good. There are times when we are all over worked and feel like we are working 30-hour days. That happens. But what about those times when things are slow in the creative industry? What about those times when the customers aren’t pounding on your door for projects for your creative team to take on? How do you keep everyone motivated? How do you keep them engaged, excited, and on top of their game? How do you avoid high anxiety levels…fearing layoffs and frustrations? It takes great management skills, a confident team, and some tricks on your part to make this all happen. I’m going to share with you some tips on keeping team morale high when things slow down – keeping your team members from fearing that their families are about to go hungry.

Through the years I've had instances where the company, division or business unit, or PMO was in doubt and I had to be creative and come up with ways to keep my team’s morale high during these seemingly down times. I look forward to your input as well as to what has (and hasn't) worked for you in these situations, but for now here are my top 3...

Team lunch. 

Yes, nothing says there's something wrong like a team lunch or gathering when you normally don't have them. That's why I stress regular team contact, huddles and activities outside of just the regular status meetings. But a gathering like a lunch to discuss the good, the bad and the rumors of what's happening in the organization is an especially helpful activity during times like this. Give everyone a chance to share their thoughts, concerns and gossip so you can put everyone on the same page...no matter whether its good news or bad news. Keeping employees and project team members in the dark - especially when there are rumors swirling around - is a very bad thing and can damage morale and create turnover faster than just about anything else. Full disclosure.

Get senior management to address your team.

As important as it is for you to address your team, it may also be necessary for your senior management to address employees – or your team specifically. It depends on how bad the situation is. But anytime there are slow times – especially if that has actually meant layoffs in the past – then it’s very important that the employees’ concerns and anxieties be addressed and the higher up that can happen the more effective it will be. And your team will likely need you, as their leader, to interpret the “speech” they just heard and tell them what it really means for them.

Look for new opportunities with existing clients.

This is something I do often as an independent consultant. Your current clients are the ones who value you the most right now because you’re actively doing work for them. Look for new needs they might have or new value you can add on – and then come up with a proposal that you think will work for them. Make it lucrative for them – make them want to say yes. You may end up being the heroes of the entire organization, but more importantly you will have instilled confidence in your team as to their – and your – ability to make things “happen” positively even when there are slow times in the industry. It’s a good feeling to turn things around that way and make something out of nothing.


And now for a bonus 4th thing. Have a party. Seriously…when frustration sets in a party can help. I’m not usually a big team party person – I’m more of a “let’s do lunch” type person (see above), but taking off the afternoon and having an afternoon/evening cocktail party or gathering where people can unwind and discuss their concerns…or discuss nothing important at all...can help people relax and connect in slow times. Keeping the team closely knit – even when there isn’t much work to do – is extremely important. Maybe even more important than when everyone is very busy.

It may be outside of your regular comfort zone to address these issues – I know it’s outside of mine. But it’s important to do something in order to ensure that your highly creative and skilled resources don’t jump ship or get too frustrated when there doesn’t seem to be much work to do.

What have you or your organization done when these circumstances present themselves? How do you keep workers on task, engaged…and  with the organization…when there isn’t much to do and they seem concerned about when the other shoe is going to drop?


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