Is Bad Morale Holding Your Team Back? Find Out Before it Costs You Money

Wake up, corporate America. It’s time to face the ugly truth – your employees are aloof.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you may want to look at the numbers and think again (especially given the productivity-conscious environment that is Shared Services).

According to recent data, 87 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged at work. That’s almost nine out of every 10 workers who are uninvolved, unenthusiastic and uncommitted to their workplace. And only 13 percent who ARE engaged!

While these statistics are alarming, don’t panic just yet. We have tips for how you can address the challenges of disengaged employees.

At the core of the team dilemma is a little-known truth: It’s not the people who need to change but the design of the team that needs an overhaul. The key is to create an environment where everyone is a leader.

A book by management consultants Stewart Liff and Paul Gustavson [A Team of Leaders] suggests how to approach the team experience and shares an empowering formula for improving performance.

It suggests a 5-stage team development model based on the characteristics that teams exhibit as they move from traditional Stage 1 leader-directed teams to self-managed Stage 5 teams, with knowledgeable people who think and act like leaders.

The key is to create an environment where everyone is a leader.


This approach allows self-managed teams to develop over time vis-á-vis their relationship with the leader. As teams become more independent, team leaders in turn are free to do more development and analysis work. Understanding this development process will make your transition to self-managing teams much smoother.

A successful self-managed team evolves through a series of stages. At the first stage, your team will start off with virtually every key decision being made by the supervisor or team leader. During transition, some of the initial enthusiasm often gives way to sarcasm as things will not always go smoothly. The team leader must ensure that people understand how teams evolve, how to address areas of uncertainty, and how to deal with issues that the team is not capable of handling.

As the team moves to Stage Two, it will start to grapple with what its goals and objectives are and try to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Again, this transition usually doesn’t happen quickly. The team leader will still have to do a lot of coordinating and mentoring as the team begins to take baby steps, while the leader begins to gradually move away from exercising full authority.

Stage Three is the midway point in your team’s evolution. While there still may be some frustration, members will start to learn their roles and come together. The "big picture" starts to become clearer to the team and its members, and a few individuals will even step up and provide some limited but real leadership. Moreover, the team will start to focus on performance. At the same time, this is also the stage where your team will start to deal with difficult people issues. The supervisor still will be intimately involved in helping to resolve these challenges because team members usually don’t know what to do and are uncomfortable with conflict. (Interestingly, dealing with difficult people is something that most supervisors are not usually comfortable with, either.)

At Stage Four, your team will really start to hum. Most of the team members are able to step up and lead in at least one specific area. People will communicate quite well and learn from each other. They will also take a serious interest in performance and try and actively achieve many of their goals and objectives. In addition, the level of engagement will clearly rise and the team will look to take charge of all its key processes and procedures. By the same token, there will still be work to do, particularly in the areas of problem solving and conflict resolution — two areas that teams generally take longer to become proficient in. Continue to work on ensuring that all team members have the requisite skill sets. At this stage, the supervisor will be more of a coach and on a more equal footing with the other team members, and the primary focus becomes training and develoment. The leader will have time to begin to focus on higher order work and contributions.

Once your team reaches Stage Five, it will be at the highest level where the team is self-managing. You will now work together as a unit to set and achieve a challenging set of goals and objectives. Everyone will be involved in team management and in grabbing the bull by the horns in order to get the job done. More important, individual team members will no longer be followers — they will be leaders who look down the road and at their environment in order to get and stay ahead of the curve. Meanwhile, good performance will no longer be acceptable to your team members — they will want excellence. Finally, the energy level of the team will be extremely high as its members will know what they need to do, will be committed to doing it, and will work together to provide the best performance possible.


Editor’s note: You can take a free "Team of Leaders" assessment at the authors’ website.

Workplace teams are supposed to harness employees’ but the reality often falls short. Imagine a team where everyone steps up and performs all of the leadership tasks…her’s how to get started


Stewart Liff is an HR and visual management expert and the president and CEO of Stewart Liff & Associates. He is the author of five books, including "Managing Government Employees" and co-author of "Seeing is Believing." He lives in Santa Clarita, Cali.

Paul Gustavson is an organizational design consultant and the founder of Organization Planning & Design, Inc. (OPD), which helps companies around the world create and sustain high-performance teams. He is the co-author of "The Power of Living by Design" and "Running into the Wind."