The organizational psychologist David Sirota says employee enthusiasm is a function of three factors:

• Fairness. A sense of fairness is deeply ingrained in our psyche and is key to our willingness to contribute to a team. In teams where members perceive themselves and others to be treated fairly, they are much more willing to commit to common goals and forgo personal ones. The opposite is true, too: If team members see themselves or others treated unfairly, they are very likely to withhold effort and perhaps even sabotage the team’s goal.

When it comes to compensation specifically, those rifts can widen in times of crisis. If people were already seeing rewards being unfairly distributed, their feelings will not get any better when bonuses disappear—specifically, if team leaders did not cut their own salaries proportionately with their income. The result will be very poor morale.

• Achievement. A good organization will find a way to balance individuals’ personal need for feelings of achievement with the accomplishments of the group. If people with high doses of talent and ambition don’t feel a personal sense of accomplishment, they might struggle to subscribe to the team goals. The opposite is true, too, because if we only recognize certain individuals, the team overall will likely experience horrible morale.

A crisis will require leaders to redefine “achievement.” We might have rewarded business development before, for example, but now client retention has emerged as the new priority.

• Camaraderie. This is about the way team members relate and the sense of belonging they get from the group. It is a combination of the happy hours and watercooler discussions and the interest we take in one other’s personal and professional lives.

It may seem to come from some unpredictable human chemistry, but in fact camaraderie can be created and fostered very purposefully when we encourage people to take an active interest in one another. We all want to be accepted as part of a group. When we are accepted or rejected we experience very powerful emotions. One of the simplest things we can do and one of the most effective (and overlooked) is to make sure our team embraces all its new members.

Sometimes preserving camaraderie may mean keeping the team together, even if it is difficult. Other times it may mean removing those members destroying team morale.

Team Dynamics
An influential paper entitled “Bad is Stronger Than Good,” co-authored by a team of psychologists and social scientists, says we retain and are influenced by negative experiences a lot more than positive ones. The paper points to research suggesting that it takes five positive experiences in any relationship to erase the effects of a single negative one.

One of the paper’s co-authors, Roy F. Baumeister, says in his book The Power of Bad that one of the most important determinants of team morale is the absence of “bad apples,” people who create an environment that strongly discourages any team contribution and kills morale. Removing these people is one of the most important functions of leadership.