Working with a demotivated team

18 March 2020

Working with a demotivated team

by Gabriela Arriaga

 It’s neither simple nor impossible to improve a team’s emotional dynamics

If you want to establish a pattern of permanence in the workplace, having the right emotional skills is essential. That means reflecting a positive attitude and, when uncertainty or unpredictability sets in, having the capacity to adapt wisely.

Staying up-to-date on the latest trends in management and the best tools to use is great, but it takes more than theoretical knowledge to truly boost satisfaction and permanence in your team. We are at work one-third of the time on the weekdays, and establishing friendly interpersonal relationships that include continuous negotiations is one of the most effective ways to counter problems at work.

In the current environment, the ability to stay focused on changing, unpredictable, and stressing scenarios is what keeps you competitive. This can only be achieved through the proper management of emotions. A lack of control of emotions within a team meeting, for example, can result in inadequate definitions or distribution of goals. This could then trigger a continuous work overload, a tense environment, an apathetic team, a careless product, and, if that goes on, a dissatisfied customer.

Many authors of management books have pointed out that the effective management of individual and collective emotions is key to coordinating teams and motivating people. That’s precisely because the failure to do so can generate a cascade of negative effects.

But what can you do if you’ve already gotten to a point where your team is suffering the consequences of a negative work environment?

Working with a team that is already dealing with an emotional issue is a huge challenge for everyone on the team, even for the company as a whole. That’s because the repercussions can be diverse. The implications of an emotional problem on a team cannot always be quantified at the beginning, and, in some cases, when they are detected, they are costly. Let’s think about the quality of the deliverable that is being generated in this problematic environment. Let’s go deeper; think about the quality of life of those involved in a stressful situation.

If a team has a technical problem, they may be having a blockage, a hardware issue, or they just can’t figure out a solution. But working together, conducting research, perhaps consulting with an expert colleague, or even just after having a relaxing moment or some free time, the solution to their problem often emerges.

On the other hand, a team with a work environment problem doesn’t even have the confidence to share their concerns or look for a solution together because they expect judgment, an argument, or they simply don’t have the energy or objectivity to deal with the issue. It becomes a circular problem. Now, despite trying, the frustration on the team generates constant quarrels, deliverables with questionable quality, people reluctant to negotiate, broken trust, and bad attitudes.

In this situation, the main goal for a team manager is to find and attack the root cause or causes, then generate agreements, ask for feedback, and make constant adjustments until the situation improves, and team members begin to move forward with trust and harmony.

It is easily described in a paragraph, but let’s face it, discovering the background of a team that is not working as such, is a very difficult, thorough and delicate work. Just because one negative trigger has been identified, it doesn’t mean it’s at the root of the problem. It might take a while to go through a long chain of issues that were never fully solved.  

And that’s only the beginning. After identifying the triggers, the manager must then get rid of the harmful agents, activities, habits, customs, and destructive attitudes. They have to rescue the team’s integrity.  Adapting to new and different challenges, restructuring the strategic plan, convincing people to keep trying and not quitting yourself, is not only difficult, but it’s also tiring and slow-moving.

Negotiation plays a major role. A plan won’t succeed if someone on the team is not convinced. To enable this dialogue, it’s indispensable to restore communication channels to generate an open, trusted and respectful forum that helps identify the root of the discrepancies and leads to small initial agreements.

Other important points include committing to agreements, being consistent when you make any adjustments, basing your strategy on clear objectives and collecting precise and sincere feedback. This should all also become a regular practice to prevent future problems from getting out of hand.

While executing an action plan with the entire team, a personalized plan must be formulated with every individual involved. Since the problem impacts everyone differently, at different levels, and in different areas, each team member needs to commit to working on the particular aspects that concern them individually. Recovering the security, sense of commitment and motivation separately will strengthen everyone’s confidence and improve the collective attitude.

Yet, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that on any team, no one is less important than anyone else, and that the whole team is working towards a common goal that will benefit everyone.

Sharing the advantages of efficient emotion management and sharing some techniques to bring it into practice can certainly also help to strengthen the team’s foundations and pave the way to a healthy work environment.

No matter what situation you’re dealing with, emotion management is crucial. Taking a cool-headed approach to whatever circumstances or unforeseen situations will always produce better results. A good mantra to remember is that if we do not manage our own emotions, someone else will take control of them, and with it, full control of any situation.

It is not always easy to identify precisely when something goes wrong in a team, but it does not take long to notice certain details that should be taken as warnings. Notice if people are becoming increasingly tired, distracted, defensive, fickle or indifferent. Notice if you can sense any tension. Also, if you’re faced with inexplicably low performance or unsatisfactory work, it may be time to think about the emotional dynamics.

It is never simple but it is also never impossible to improve the situation of a demotivated and conflicted team. The hard part is not giving up, even after several attempts and even after temporarily losing a sense of purpose or focus.

 Keeping up a positive attitude while facing each problem is the most difficult task, but once it’s achieved, the team will undoubtedly be much more diligent; their ability to adapt and handle upcoming challenges will increase, and the quality of deliverables will visibly improve. At the same time, everyone’s quality of life will get much better, and it will be noticed in a positive work environment. An emotionally mature team is a successful team.

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