Life & Work Skills

Part of a Small Team? These 5 Things Can Make or Break Morale


Working in a small team can be a great experience. Employees are known to be more engaged in small teams, and smaller teams are also often considered more productive and can innovate more effectively. On the flip side, if morale takes a nose dive, well, there’s nowhere to hide. These few tips can help morale in your tiny team.


1. Specify everyone’s role

The #1 rule for small team effectiveness is understanding everyone’s responsibilities. In small teams, you’re likely to need to wear many hats. That’s not so much what takes a toll on morale; instead, it’s being unclear on what those many hats are, and the tasks of your co-workers. Lack of goal and role definition is one of the things that can quickly zap your work energy, motivation, and morale.

This can be especially true in teams that have worked together for a while, or in contrast, when a new person joins. Roles either blur over time or are upended suddenly with a new addition. Our jobs today are almost never static, so it makes sense that we should communicate on these expectations routinely. Consider a check-in as a team at least twice a year, or alongside any major staffing changes to get clear on expectations and task ownership. 


2. Help keep meetings brief and frequent

One of the perks of a small team is feeling less subject to a lot of administrative overhead. The best way that shows up is that team meetings can be shorter! Your preparation and participation go a long way in making that a reality.

Chat with your manager about what team meetings you have, how often they’re happening, and create an agenda format for each. That might feel a little too structured, but it can help shorten meetings and move the team to decisions more quickly. When team morale is good, it can also mean that meetings get more chatty and lengthy. Ironically, over time that can be a detriment to the team, so be conscious of if you feel like you came out of meetings thinking it was a good use of your time.


3. Develop bilateral relationships

Small teams function as little cohesive organisms in their best states. What this can also mean is that you get to know everyone in a group setting, but may not know people individually. Making an effort to get to know everyone on your team outside of the group context is important. Find ways to congratulate them on a job well done or provide helpful feedback when needed. It goes a long way in establishing morale because you’ll have a better sense of that person’s individual work style, interests, and skills.

This takes some balance. Super close friendships among small teams can more easily make others feel like “outsiders.” Make an effort to keep real friendship activities off the clock, instead of routinely sneaking off with your work bestie for lengthy lunches. Even if you’re on top of tasks, this consistent habit can alienate other colleagues.


4. Share ideas early on

Team bandwidth is a precious resource when it’s just a few of you. That makes it all the more important to share your new ideas early and often. The team will struggle if resources and time are spent on things that aren’t aligned with your collective goals.

Make an effort to share a little more detail than you normally would about the projects on your plate. Think about the long term of what they’re going to take, and who needs to be involved. A little extra transparency and communication goes a long way in small teams. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding your co-worker has been chipping away on a project that doesn’t add value to the organization when her time could have been spent on something more productive for the group.


5. Set professional and personal boundaries

“At small parties, there isn’t any privacy,” is one of the most fabulous quotes in The Great Gatsby. In a small team, you’re at a small party every day. Know that it’s much easier for people to have a greater sense of your work and personal life. It’s even more important that you set boundaries among the few people at the office you spend a lot of your time with.

Within smaller teams, it’s easier to start feeling friendly—or even like you are friends first. While that is a fabulous, ideal state to achieve in your team culture, it is still the office. Reporting chains, deadlines, and expectations can become challenging when we don’t set boundaries.


Have you worked in a small team? How have you shaped team culture?