How to Maintain a Winning Team Spirit in the New Normal...

Nowadays the “new normal” is a situation where we are either in a full lockdown or at the best case, only 10-30% are in the office. This is the reason many of my clients are concerned that their team spirit is in doubt. The social distancing, homeschooling and many other things are causing distractions that can drive people even to depression.

Because of this, it is difficult to maintain the team spirit, which influences the work performance that your business requires. So to help with this, here are a number of tips to maintain the team spirit despite the distance, geographical borders, time zones and different cultures that are common in global teams.

Let’s get started.

Parachutes and prizes – a winning power team story.

In 2006-2007 I was managing a global programme establishing global shared services. I was responsible for transferring 20 countries in Europe from local IT management to the global Shared Services Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Initially, I had two people full time on the team. A German lady called Lena, and a larger than life guy named Jamshid. Together we were supported by five global experts in HR, legal and tax.

Initially, we were very enthusiastic about it all, but after the first three months, I noticed that sometimes I tried to be the smartest person in the room. I would tell people not just what needed to be done, but also how exactly they had to perform their roles.

And these were experts in their fields! After having these meetings, I found it was very difficult to motivate or push them to do anything, being so far away. I realised then that instead of being a productivity factor, I became a brake factor and burnout was waiting behind the corner. There had to be a better way of doing things…

While I was contemplating what to do, Jamshid moved to another career and in his place came Pilar, a Spanish lady with a red mane of hair who brought fresh wind of change. She suggested we use the life journey of the lifeline, which I referred to in my blog about building trust – feel free to read up on that here!

After implementing this, and as the team grew, I realised how lucky I was to work with such experts and how foolish it was to compete with them. Six months down the road, we gathered so much momentum, I went to the project board and suggested that if we finish this 2 years project 3 months earlier, all 30 people involved in the project would get to go to the Canary Islands.

The people cost of the project was 1 million Euro per annum. If we finish 3 months earlier we save 250 000 Euro and with 50 000 Euro we all go to Tenerife, Canary Islands. I immediately announced this to the team, and the spirit changed instantly, everyone was buzzing.

A wonderful spirit of cooperation.

Then Lena came up with an idea of creative reporting. Instead of a typical traffic light system, we changed to an island with a palm tree. We had 20 parachuters and after each milestone they would get closer and closer to the island.

Initially, there was a competition about who would land first, but after the first few landings, it was irrelevant. Only if we all made it would we all go. It created a wonderful spirit of cooperation and, just one day before the deadline, on the 30th of December 2007, the last parachuter from Uzbekistan landed. At the end of the project, we had top customer feedback, we saved €200,000, and we had a fantastic party with the team.

The cost of a prize is less than the cost of delay. So what are the morals of this story? Firstly, to maintain a winning spirit, you need an appealing, sexy prize for outstanding performance. It should be something really outstanding too because by delivering on a project faster, you could save a significant amount of money to fund a proper prize. The cost of a prize will always be less than the organisational cost of a delay.

Secondly, make sure you announce this prize early. People in the virtual environment need more time to think about how cool it would be to have this prize, and it creates a lot of buzz and excitement to get everyone moving.

Thirdly, make the team choose the prize. Even the small organisations I’ve worked with zero budgets, like NGOs, come up with ideas for great prizes. Here in Germany, one NGO got tickets for a Bayern Munich game delivered by their sponsors!

Another team had a virtual pizza party where they just chose the type of food and drink. They had people in 50 locations, all joining in with the same music, celebrating and dancing.

So let the team decide on the goal.

The fourth, and perhaps the most important, thing is visualising the goal. Remember our picture with the island and parachuters? Make sure you have a visual which at a glance shows you where you are with your goal, who needs help and who can help! This common reality will be the nucleus that will attract your team members to success. So what else can you do to maintain the team spirit?

Praise and recognition.

Let me share with you a little about my life. I’m a father of five girls, no joke, one wife, one marriage, five girls! If there is one secret to leading a family of six women, though I must say they manage me, rather than the other way around, it’s praise, praise, praise.What to praise? Praise the result. If there is no result, but you see people supporting each other, praise the behaviour. If there is neither result, nor behaviour yet, look harder. There is always something to praise. But make sure you are specific, timely and genuine too.

How do you do this?

Do you know what the number one reason for people leaving companies is? Not enough recognition. So people actually quit because of bosses, not the company itself! This is why creating a spirit of praise is even more important in remote teams. Many managers forget to do this in a virtual team as they don’t see their employees, and this has an even more destructive effect.

So, make sure as a manager, you are telling your employees exactly what you liked about their performance, it’s more important now than ever. You could even gamify it. I work with various outsourcing companies who have come up with many creative ideas on how to celebrate.

Turn it into a game!

The key here is to ask your team for ideas. For example, one company had a theme of the week which was: What is the best workplace? Remote work means people can work wherever they like. One guy was on a mountaintop having his laptop on the front lid of his Jeep and enjoying a stunning view ahead!

Those kinds of photos and competitions that get people sharing are fun, and everybody will get praise from their peers. You could also have a product of the week or get people brainstorming great ideas that will improve peer-to-peer recognition and maintain the team spirit.

Another thing you can do to infuse a winning spirit in your team is to end a meeting on a high

Praise on a deeper level.

Let me give you one approach on how to do this, which has always worked for me. When you end your meeting, put each person on a full screen, individually look into their eyes, and tell him/her about their strength or talent you most value. Do this to everyone on the team. Tell them about the talents they have that you could not do without, and when you finish, tell them you are fully confident that with this team, we can achieve anything, we can write history.

I assure you, when you do this, you will get in touch with your team’s personal greatness, and you will enjoy the wonderful fruits your team will bear. I hope these tips help you to maintain the winning team spirit. You can find many more tips like these in my new book “Power Teams Beyond Borders” Alternatively, for more useful information feel free to subscribe to my blog by clicking the link here.

A big power hug from me.

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