Morale and Motivation within startups
Often in smaller teams/companies/groups we are faced with the challenge of motivating people to do work. I draw most of my experience in this from my time in army cadets in Canada, and with working within Blackberry during probably the most turbulent times. Within both experiences there was low morale within a group, and there were tough decisions to make for leaders to take charge and not let the rope slip too far.
Motivation and morale are both health indicators of how efficient and effective a team is. If the morale is low within a team, this causes their motivation to also drop. It also works the other way, if individual workers aren’t motivated to work, this can cause a loss of morale within a team. This topic is especially tricky to deal with in a small company because there are so many different situations where this can occur.
Being a leader is more than just telling people what to do because you’re in charge, although this is sadly the case most of the time. In my experience, this will only work for so long before people become so unhappy that they take drastic actions. Within a startup, the team is so small that this is inevitable, there will always be work that is menial and make you feel undervalued. But if this continues for an extended period of time, this leads to people becoming unhappy and lost about what direction they should be taking. There’s often the thinking of “this is only temporary, I’ll just work through it and then it’ll be alright”. Undoubtably this line of thought happens to everybody, but it is important to monitor where this goes. Thinking like this for too long leads to morale and motivation dropping.
One must be always checking in on the health of the company, because during stressful times it’s easy to become vulnerable to this line of thinking. But the other case is when there are times of misdirection, which can also lead to a loss of morale. Namely, if people are not sure of what to do, and either no longer believe in the work, or don’t know where the path is leading. Both are cases of when morale and motivation have dropped to levels that are not good for the company.
It is up to the leader to take on the task of seeing that this is happening, and make the correct actions to fix it. In larger companies, this is done retroactively with a HR department which addresses the problem after the fact that it has become bad enough that enough people notice. But a startup does not have this luxury, nor is it productive for a small company to get into that state. I have been spending a lot of my time checking in on these health points, because these soft metrics are much harder to see compared to looking at KPIs and Jira tickets. Generally a happy worker produces better work, so I have been trying my best to get everybody happy and working well together. A common start is to have one on ones often, and allow for people to be straightforward when talking to you. This is never an easy task, and often there is never a simple, straightforward solution. But it is so very important.