August 31, 2023
I recently taught a project management workshop and I included something that I learned over 30 years ago when I first started my career as a program manager. It was the importance of creating an environment of high morale and esprit de corps.
The French term, “esprit de corps” means a strong sense of unity and enthusiasm among a group of people. It’s like a special team spirit that makes everyone feel connected and committed to the same goals.
Why is this important? Teams that are high in morale and esprit de corps are not only happy but also feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, working together cohesively towards a common goal. They tend to be more productive and cohesive and they navigate conflict more easily than teams that don’t have those qualities.
I first learned of the term and its importance when reading William A. Cohen’s 1990 book, The Art of the Leader. You’ve probably never heard of Cohen or the book.
Cohen is a retired officer of the US Air Force and a prominent author, consultant, and speaker on leadership and business strategy. Though best known for The Art of the Leader, Cohn authored over 30 books and numerous articles on leadership. Cohen earned his Ph.D. from the Drucker School of Management and his writings draw from his experience in the military as well as in business.
In The Art of the Leader, Cohen says that there are 7 actions steps you can take to build and maintain high morale and esprit de corps:
- Let others participate in the ownership of your ideas, goals, and objectives.
- Be cheerful in everything you do.
- Know what is going on and take action to fix or capitalize on it.
- Lead by personal example whenever possible.
- Maintain high personal integrity
- Build mutual confidence by demonstrating real concern for those you are responsible for.
- Focus on contribution, not personal gain, and encourage the organization to do the same.
— William A. Cohen, The Art of the Leader
Let’s explore each of these and see how Scrum Masters, Coaches, Managers and Leaders can apply them.
Recognize the role of the self-organizing team and honor it. Ask for input on any important decisions and incorporate everyone’s perspectives.
Being cheerful can be challenging, particularly in challenging environments. Many of us Coaches and Scrum Master are introducing new ways of working in organizations and that can often feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill. Even so, it is important to manage our emotions and stay upbeat.
This is one of my favorite items on the list. As the leader, you are often in a position to have more information about what is going on than others. Make it a point to know the current status and take appropriate action.
I once led a large program team that was up against unrealistic schedules. I can recall many evenings when team members would be working late. I usually stayed late as well. Often I had food brought in for the team. But mostly I was just there and available. There wasn’t much that I could do to help but I wanted the team to know I would not expect them to do anything I would not do.
Integrity means to do what you say. It is both that simple and that difficult.
Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.
Genuine concern is not something that can be faked. We need to genuinely care about each person as a human being and not just as a “resource” that completes tasks.
At the end of the day, it’s not about promotions or job titles. It’s about making a positive difference. Great leaders focus on how teams can work together to create something bigger than each could on their own.
I recently heard a Scrum Master describing a team they were supporting. They talked about critical aspects of the team’s performance using “they” and “them”. It struck me as odd that as the Scrum Master, they were part of the team. I felt they should have been using “we” and “us”.
At the end of the day, many of us succeed or fail based on teams. Whether we are the leader, coach or Scrum Master, their success is our success. Having high morale and esprit de corps is like a force multiplier. You can get more done and resolve issues more quickly when you foster that team spirit.