Leading change; how low morale impacts performance amongst teams

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Effective leadership in sports teams makes them function well and develops confidence to compete as a single unit, united in their goal to do what it takes to beat the competition. But we don’t just hear about the team talk from the appointed captain, we hear of those who influence the mood of the dressing room with humour, the good listeners for those having a difficult time or the brilliant tacticians in certain situations.

All contribute to the performance of the team and the desired results. They each guide and influence others towards a common goal without the need for a formal title, e.g. “head of dressing room comedy”.

This model applies equally to organisations delivering a complex, risky or high-profile agenda. It’s important that senior leaders have a network of people across the organisation, that they can trust to understand the roadmap and clearly communicate current goals, future vision or immediate priorities.

These individuals must show a desire to solve problems and to help and inspire others, especially if there’s a need to raise morale or boost confidence when there’s ambiguity in the next steps or teams are exhausted.


Low morale and teamwork


Identifying and supporting such a network is invaluable, but also can be daunting for senior leaders, who need to be comfortable and confident to delegate to and support those putting themselves forward for

these roles, which are in effect leadership positions without an official title.

In an automation programme for a multi-channel retailer we were involved with, teams had lost confidence in their ability to lift the performance of their new site after months of missed targets, complex tech and engineering challenges and high staff turnover.

The team were exhausted and overwhelmed by the continual day-to-day challenges, as well as demands to address the next wave of changes to site operations and customer propositions. The senior leadership team were also confronted with some difficult prioritisation calls. Regardless of how tempting it can be to flag multiple initiatives as priority one, it will always be unrealistic and inefficient to do so.


The risks with low engagement


Whilst there was significant focus on getting the right team and external expertise to increase the reliability of the automation’s performance, it was also acutely apparent that the low engagement and morale of operational teams was impacting them in multiple ways:

  • The level of errors and rework
  • The stability of the workforce
  • The retention of talent and valuable problem-solving knowledge.

There was an urgent need to find new ways of working to shift the environment to one making visible progress and giving teams pride in success along the way.

Four steps to engaging employees and improving performance


team discussion


1. Identify issues

Our first step in engaging the teams was to hear what was on their minds and acknowledge what was most important to them. Through a series of discussion groups, we learnt that teams:

  • Felt disconnected, from other teams, from their managers through to the site leadership team, e.g. finding who or how to escalate issues or opportunities
  • Were overwhelmed by the scale of the operational challenges – didn’t know how or where to start improving performance
  • Didn’t know how their role fit in delivering the expected performance of the site or customer promises; they felt a lack of appreciation for their efforts


2. Identify priorities

Based on this insight, we were able to set some initial priorities and guiderails to bring focus to the people agenda. These included:

  • Prioritising regular two-way comms and engagement – giving a voice to colleagues
  • Never compromising on safety and wellbeing
  • Taking a pride in what we do by bringing all teams closer to the customer


3. Identify key influencers

Through these discussion groups, across all functional areas and shifts, 30 individuals were identified to represent the site – not based on being a manager or team leader but based on being interested and enthusiastic about turning the site around. No one who volunteered was turned away. The role of this coalition was to:

  • Raise awareness of day-to-day frontline issues, challenge processes and ways of working, canvass opinions for solutions and not hold back in asking for support
  • Take ownership for specific actions – comms, problems solving, monitoring progress (temperature check and feedback)
  • Bring energy to influence others, encourage feedback and sharing of ideas, recognise all contributions


4. Build trust, support and leadership

The team were supported through training, coaching and improved access to real time performance data and customer insight reports. They were given a small amount of time in each shift to allocate to the transition project.

Their team leaders and managers were also coached in recognising the importance of these individuals and the opportunities it brought. All were encouraged and supported to take decisions thoughtfully and to review them regularly.

The 30 individuals, their managers and the site leadership team were being stretched, so coaching, encouragement and understanding were all evident across the site. Senior leaders learnt to put greater trust in their teams to do the right thing (not something that happens overnight).


Improving performance comes from better collaboration


Through this initiative, site performance improved, not just through the process and tech changes, but through delivering with the right impact and the right behaviours. We were able to improve performance through better collaboration between the teams, discussing their challenges, KPIs, successes and performance for the customer. The actions we took were simple:

  • Building awareness of upstream and downstream impacts and timing of actions
  • Providing direct customer feedback to frontline teams
  • Supporting an increased confidence to problem solve and take data-based decisions – delegating authority where appropriate
  • Putting a face and name to the leadership team, and actively showing their support


A whole is a sum of its parts


No matter how complex the challenges, raising awareness across the whole organisation, engaging the broader workforce in playing their part to resolve and giving additional support to a small group of change leaders and influencers brings a wealth of hope for the future:

  • These small, temporary opportunities to lead spreads the load for leaders and builds leadership capability throughout the organisation – a pipeline for the future
  • Increased engagement and purpose for teams and individuals comes when they are more aware of their contribution to delivering the customer proposition
  • The path to improved performance speeds up through shifts in data-based, well-informed decisions, taken as near to the problem as possible
  • A stable operation, responsive to change, will always be ready to innovate the customer proposition, to support the reputation and to increase the bottom line of the business


If you are experiencing any of the issues we’ve raised in this article then please do get in touch here. The replay of our recent Hatmill Huddle will soon be available for more information, ideas and sharing of experience.   

Discover how to manage change to accelerate ROI on supply chain and logistics automation here.


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