How to get your team back in the zone

It’s a funny time of year. People are either on holiday, just back from holiday, or fed up because they haven’t had a holiday. The conversation in the office revolves around just how long the wait was at passport control and just how much rain there was in Cornwall. Everyone’s lost energy and focus, no-one’s sure what they are supposed to be doing and productivity has taken a nose dive.

It can be a challenging time for managers, who need to make sure they keep their team goal-oriented and motivated when, to be honest, they’re probably feeling a bit lack-lustre themselves.

So what can you do to navigate the silly season and keep your people operating at their top of their game?

1. Remind people of their goals

When people come back to work after a break, they’ve often forgotten exactly what it was they were doing before they went away. They fritter their time away doing ‘easy’ but unnecessary tasks and put everything else on the back burner until the ‘new term’ in September. The reality, however, is that if you can persuade people not to take their foot off the gas, late Summer can be a really productive time. The phones are quieter and there are fewer interruptions, giving people the chance to really concentrate and get their heads down.

Don’t cancel the regular team meeting, even if some of the faces are missing. Use it as an opportunity to remind people about the overall vision and how their work fits in. Setting short term goals can be a good tactic at a time when people are a bit distracted. It will help them focus and will feel more manageable.

2. Monitor the mood

One person who’s not in the right frame of mind can drag the rest of the team down. But while you may not be able to pull them out of the late Summer slump, there are actions you can take as a manager to dilute the impact they are having on their colleagues.

If someone seems seriously out of sorts, take them to one side and try and find out what’s wrong. Sometimes just the chance to talk about what’s going on – either personally or professionally – and to feel that someone is listening, is enough to lift people’s mood. It’s also important to recognise that there is a strong correlation between mood and energy levels, which means people will be more suited to certain types of tasks, depending on where they are sitting on the mood spectrum.

If someone has returned from holiday bouncing with energy, for example, it’s a great time to get them involved in generating new ideas or driving a project forward. If another team member, however, is clearly not in the zone, try to direct their efforts onto more routine, less demanding tasks which are important but tend to get put on the back burner when everyone is busy. That way they can be productive while rediscovering their mojo.

3. Schedule informal check-ins

The post-holiday period is a great time to organise one-to-ones with your team, even if no formal appraisal is due. Taking a break often gives people a chance to reflect and think about what they really want out of their lives and careers. While it’s a bit quieter, seize the opportunity to sit down with people and talk about their aspirations. What do they want to achieve? How can you help them maximise their strengths and do more of the kind of work they enjoy?

Make training and development part of the conversation. Even if there is limited budget for formal training programmes, you can find other more creative ways for team members to build their skills. If people can see you are willing to support their development, it will give them a real boost and help to renew enthusiasm for the months ahead. It could even influence someone who has made a ‘holiday’ decision to look for pastures new to change their mind and stay.

4. Sort the small stuff

Often it’s the small everyday niggles that drag people down. The printer keeps breaking down, the blind in their office is still broken and it takes three forms and as many weeks to process a simple stationery order. It’s amazing what a difference it can make if, as a manager, you can step in and sort these irritating issues out so that people can just get on with their jobs. It’s not just about having a hot line to maintenance, it’s also about making sure you are exploiting the technology solutions that are now out there to help you manage your team effectively.

The latest generation HR software systems, for example, offer employee self-service so that people can access HR policies, update their own personal data, log absence and check on annual entitlement without having to wait for answers for their manager or the HR team. These small measures make it much easier for people to manage their working lives and cut down not just admin, but also frustration levels.

5. Give people something to look forward to

Part of getting people motivated is giving them something to look forward to. It’s a good time, for example, to start organising a team away-day. Ask people what they’d like to do and get them involved in the planning to build a sense of excitement. It doesn’t have to be a big expensive event.

One of the best things I’ve been involved in recently was a team challenge/treasure hunt in a local town. Inexpensive, self-managed via a mobile app and great fun. You could also consider introducing a weekly treat – maybe cakes in the office on a Friday afternoon, combined with a celebration of what’s gone well that week.

If you can find small ways to help people gel and to make work more fun, it can have a real impact on energy and enthusiasm levels.

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