Build and Maintain High Morale and Esprit de Corps

Building Morale and Esprit de Corps

I recently taught a project management workshop and I included something that I learned over 30 years ago when I first started my career as a program manager. It was the importance of creating an environment of high morale and esprit de corps.

The French term, “esprit de corps” means a strong sense of unity and enthusiasm among a group of people. It’s like a special team spirit that makes everyone feel connected and committed to the same goals.

Why is this important? Teams that are high in morale and esprit de corps are not only happy but also feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, working together cohesively towards a common goal. They tend to be more productive and cohesive and they navigate conflict more easily than teams that don’t have those qualities.

My Introduction to Morale and Esprit de Corps

I first learned of the term and its importance when reading William A. Cohen’s 1990 book, The Art of the Leader. You’ve probably never heard of Cohen or the book.

Cohen is a retired officer of the US Air Force and a prominent author, consultant, and speaker on leadership and business strategy. Though best known for The Art of the Leader, Cohn authored over 30 books and numerous articles on leadership. Cohen earned his Ph.D. from the Drucker School of Management and his writings draw from his experience in the military as well as in business.

In The Art of the Leader, Cohen says that there are 7 actions steps you can take to build and maintain high morale and esprit de corps:

  1. Let others participate in the ownership of your ideas, goals, and objectives.
  2. Be cheerful in everything you do.
  3. Know what is going on and take action to fix or capitalize on it.
  4. Lead by personal example whenever possible.
  5. Maintain high personal integrity
  6. Build mutual confidence by demonstrating real concern for those you are responsible for.
  7. Focus on contribution, not personal gain, and encourage the organization to do the same.

— William A. Cohen, The Art of the Leader

Let’s explore each of these and see how Scrum Masters, Coaches, Managers and Leaders can apply them.

1. Let others Participate in the Ownership of Your Ideas, Goals, and Objectives

Recognize the role of the self-organizing team and honor it. Ask for input on any important decisions and incorporate everyone’s perspectives.

  • Encourage shared ownership. Actively invite team members to collaborate on setting goals and shaping ideas. Don’t dictate.
  • Give credit to the team participants who contribute to ideas and objectives and downplay your own contribution. For example, if a team member offers an idea that you already had, say “great idea” rather than “I already thought of that”.

2. Be Cheerful in Everything You Do

Being cheerful can be challenging, particularly in challenging environments. Many of us Coaches and Scrum Master are introducing new ways of working in organizations and that can often feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill. Even so, it is important to manage our emotions and stay upbeat.

  • Strive to keep your energy and tone positive, even when facing challenges. Be a model of optimism.
  • Express enthusiasm when interacting with various teams and stakeholders.
  • Use humor appropriately to lift spirits and create a cheerful environment.
  • Celebrate big and small team successes to foster a positive environment.

3. Know What is Going On and Take Action to Fix or Capitalize on It

This is one of my favorite items on the list. As the leader, you are often in a position to have more information about what is going on than others. Make it a point to know the current status and take appropriate action.

  • Stay informed on blockers impacting team productivity and morale. Escalate issues promptly to demonstrate that you support the team.
  • Pay attention to trends in team performance and quality and highlight opportunities for improvement.
  • Keep a pulse on the organizational dynamics and politics that may impact teams.

4. Lead by Personal Example Whenever Possible

I once led a large program team that was up against unrealistic schedules. I can recall many evenings when team members would be working late. I usually stayed late as well. Often I had food brought in for the team. But mostly I was just there and available. There wasn’t much that I could do to help but I wanted the team to know I would not expect them to do anything I would not do.

  • Roll up your sleeves and pitch in on tasks to demonstrate the behaviors you want the team to adopt.
  • Create a safe-to-fail environment by talking about your own mistakes, your learning process, and your growth areas. Agilists often talk about taking risks and failing fast. But we don’t always make it safe for team members to fail.

5. Maintain High Personal Integrity

Integrity means to do what you say. It is both that simple and that difficult.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.

— Unknown

  • Use caution to not over-commit when making commitments. And once you make a commitment, honor it. Honoring both large and small commitments takes discipline and it is essential to build trustworthiness.
  • Be honest and own your mistakes quickly. Don’t attempt to cover up a mistake as this nearly always backfires and makes things worse. And don’t try to shift blame or explain your purported good intent behind the mistake. Your attempts to justify it will only generate animosity and distrust. “I’m sorry” works better then “here is why I did it”.
  • Treat sensitive information with care and discretion. If someone shares something in confidence, don’t break that confidence.

6. Build Mutual Confidence by Demonstrating Real Concern for Those You are Responsible For

Genuine concern is not something that can be faked. We need to genuinely care about each person as a human being and not just as a “resource” that completes tasks.

  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each person on the team. Show up prepared to be fully present and engaged and focus on listening. Ask thoughtful questions to learn about each person and their goals and objectives.
  • Provide opportunities for growth by delegating stretch assignments or recommending training that aligns with the individual’s goals and desires.

7. Focus on Contribution, not Personal Gain, and Encourage the Organization to Do the Same

At the end of the day, it’s not about promotions or job titles. It’s about making a positive difference. Great leaders focus on how teams can work together to create something bigger than each could on their own.

I recently heard a Scrum Master describing a team they were supporting. They talked about critical aspects of the team’s performance using “they” and “them”. It struck me as odd that as the Scrum Master, they were part of the team. I felt they should have been using “we” and “us”.

  • Be intentional about sharing successes or shortcomings and the language we use around it. Use “we” or “you” language for accomplishments. When discussing mistakes or shortcomings, use “I”, “we” or “us”.
  • Help team members connect their individual efforts to the overall goals and objectives of the organization. Reinforce how each person’s contribution adds unique value.
  • Ensure individuals are focused on team goals and not individual advancement. In many organizations, this can mean working with HR to adopt performance management and rewards that are tied to team outcomes rather than individual contributions.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, many of us succeed or fail based on teams. Whether we are the leader, coach or Scrum Master, their success is our success. Having high morale and esprit de corps is like a force multiplier. You can get more done and resolve issues more quickly when you foster that team spirit.

Related Posts

By Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.