Keeping Team Morale High During Busy Seasons

July 6, 2018 Stacy Jagodowski

We’ve all been there during those times of the year when there is so much happening that you can’t fully see what’s on your plate. Calendars are booked solid with meetings, events, and projects. Deadlines are looming. And we wonder, will we ever head home at a decent hour? These busy seasons are expected, but that doesn’t make them any easier to handle. Staying positive during these challenging periods can be—well, challenging.

Trust me; there is light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not an oncoming train). From the standard to the unconventional, these managerial strategies will help your team survive—and thrive—during busy seasons.  

Prioritize assignments and clear obstacles.

It’s easy to get lost in a mile long to-do list, but a quick ten-minute meeting with each team member to review their workload can help reduce stress and improve productivity. You might consider working to identify two types of projects to tackle first: quick-win items that can get checked off the list ASAP and major needs that require urgent attention. Quick wins reduce stress by making a to-do list seem more manageable at a glance, and major needs help you prioritize what absolutely must be addressed first.

By empowering team members to focus on one or two things at a time, and clearing the path for them to complete those assignments, you create a feeling of security that makes a huge difference in lowering stress levels. Accomplishing even a few tasks can be rewarding and energizing.

To help prioritize assignments and remove obstacles, the manager may need to negotiate with other departments to extend deadlines on less urgent items, or to reduce the scope of a major project. When a project is pushed back, this can be beneficial for the requesting department, too, as their project will get more attention, resulting in a higher-quality product.

Many projects also have an assortment of “must have” and “nice to have” components. Compromising on some of the “nice to haves” in favor of doing an exceptionally awesome job on the “must haves” can be a win-win for both parties, saving time and sanity while preserving quality. This speaks to the age-old advice of “work smarter, not harder.”

You might also encourage the team to set away messages on email and switch phones to “do not disturb,” which can further enhance productivity by removing potential distractions. Some teams may even wish to find a place to work away from the office for a day or two.

The benefit of managerial prioritization is that you’re showing empathy regarding heavy workloads and stressful time periods by empowering team members to focus on what matters most.

Create a positive environment.

It seems obvious, but preparing a positive environment for your team to work in when you know a stressful stretch is coming can make a major difference. Cleaning up clutter, stocking up on and organizing supplies, and setting production schedules and goals are great ways to maintain a positive environment.

During a stressful time, you might also want to get creative. Look for ways to create natural incentives and rewards. Stock the office with the team’s favorite snacks and drinks, provide whiteboards or large rolls of paper for collaborative brainstorming, and find some comfy chairs for team meetings or to lounge more comfortably when planning out a project.

Have a project that requires focused attention for prolonged periods of time? Order a special lunch, have ample snacks on hand, and even consider if a longer day to complete the project might be in order—compensated with an incentive of time off. Working 10-12 hours on two or three days in favor of taking Friday off can be a major reward for many teams, and offers up a more dedicated time to focus on the task at hand. Plus, having a long weekend to look forward to can keep teams feeling motivated.

Offer passion projects.

Many times, teams generate massive wish lists of things they’d love to do—if they only had the time. These projects are often the result of personal interests and are exciting to consider. As a manager, finding time to complete these projects can be a challenge, but if a passion project can be offered as a reward, you might find your team more energized to complete other projects.

Passion projects can range from professional development opportunities to tasks that have been put on the backburner for months (or even years). Your webmaster might have been talking about researching CSS to learn how to better style your pages, or your graphic designer may have been wanting to give your old business cards a facelift for years. Taking time to devote to these important, although not urgent, projects can breathe new life into your team, and your product.

You might also offer the chance for your team to try something completely new, unrelated to their job description. A team member who is regularly focused on technical website projects, might get a huge burst of excitement at the prospect of offering to be a chaperone on a school field trip to a museum. Not only will she get to go on the trip, but she can also step into the role of reporter, taking pictures and even writing an article. Perhaps your graphic designer wants to try her hand at writing, or your team writer wants to explore photography. Encouraging your team to step out of their usual day-to-day and into something new that they choose can be a refreshing change of pace, and also gives the school some great content to use.

Strategically placing a passion project between two busy periods can help the team recover from one stressful time and energize them for the next one. Passion projects are known for increasing employee satisfaction and having a benefit on the bottom line. It’s a win-win when employees can pursue interesting projects that will also improve the customer experience or streamline work.  

Encourage bad behavior (within reason).

During stressful seasons, we all need to release pent-up energy, vent frustrations, and flat-out complain about anything and everything. Keeping this in mind, we can proactively plan to encourage bad behavior throughout the work day, offering up outlets for expressing anger, frustration, confusion, and every other negative feeling. Sure, you can keep an ample supply of stress balls and zen sand gardens on hand, but that’s just the beginning.

Bringing the team together throughout the day, without a set agenda, can actually be highly beneficial as a motivational opportunity. Start the day with a coffee chat and vent as a team about your frustrations. As a manager, you can use this as an opportunity to gather intel about obstacles that you may be able to clear for your team, or provide insight on how to accomplish something.

Grab some indoor games and give your team a chance to play during breaks. Set up a kid’s basketball hoop in the office, compete to hit a target with nerf darts, or organize a mini bowling tournament in the hallway. You might be surprised how just a few minutes of fun and games can spark up laughter and camaraderie, resulting in an energized and happy team.

Need something a bit more hardcore? Redefine what a “break room” is with your team by heading out early one day for a frustration-fighting field trip. Many cities now have places where people can go to release their stress by breaking things, like dishes and glasses, in a controlled environment. Who hasn’t thought about what it would be like to throw a plate across the room like a frisbee?

The most important takeaway, whether you’re breaking dishes or learning something new, is that it’s important for teams to feel valued and supported. A positive environment makes employees feel better about their roles in the workplace, and happy employees tend to be more productive and they produce better quality work.  

Have other ideas for keeping team morale high during busy seasons? Tweet them to @stacyjago or @blackbaudk12.


About the Author

Stacy Jagodowski

Inspired by her own private school experiences, Stacy Jagodowski has devoted her career as a faculty member and administrator to introducing others to the private school world. Her career has focused on institutional advancement, with five years of admission experience, and more than a decade in marketing and communications. Stacy has led strategic marketing and communications teams at Cheshire Academy and Milken Community Schools; at Cheshire, her team earned award-winning recognition for their annual fund marketing programs and overall team development. She blogs for several private school organizations and has given several webinars and podcasts about private school marketing best practices. Stacy has also presented at national conferences including the NAIS Annual Conference, TABS Annual Conference, NAIS TABS Global Symposium, and Blackbaud K-12’s User Conference.

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