You are contagious…

As a manager it is hard to miss how your own attitude, behaviour, and possibly more so your mood impacts that of your team.

It is very difficult to maintain motivation within your team when you yourself are feeling demotivated and potentially miserable within your role.

I was recently reading an article in Harvard Business Review, the article was with regards to social contagion and emotional contagion. This really struck a chord. I had recently started working with a senior manager, and one of the areas that we were focusing on was his own motivation and that of the team. This particular manager was demotivated at work. His own perception was that he was adequately delivering his engagement’s with his staff in an upbeat, energised and motivated manner. And yet, his staff were still demotivated. He wondered why.

It's hard to deliver a forced happy and positive state when it’s not authentic.

As a manager you will be motivating or demotivating your staff through your own motivation, energy and emotional state. You, as a manager, have a greater influence on your team and productivity that you may possibly well imagine. Your team may very well be mirroring your state and therefore your motivation and productivity.

You alone do not hold the responsibility for your team’s productivity. This can be influenced by other team members for the better or for the worse. One person’s mood can be contagious and impact emotions and output - social contagion.

When managed correctly social contagion can be a plus for all, individuals, the team, you as a Manager and of course the business due to increased motivation and productivity.

Social contagion may be demonstrated when a group of individuals get caught up in the moment and demonstrate similar behaviour. The behaviour demonstrated is often due to the strongest felt emotion - anger, negativity, happiness, positivity, fear etc.

Bravery in numbers?
Remember the London riots of 2011 where everyday people joined in the riots? Individuals got caught up in the social environment and the mood of a few spread through many. When in a negative group environment well behaved individuals may become hooligans as part of a bigger group at football matches... Social Contagion. Remember the clean-up campaign following the riots? Lots of individuals gathered at various places with cleaning materials ready to clean up the mess... emotional and social contagion.

At work, you may have witnessed a situation where a Change has been implemented and most people are silent. Then a couple of individuals are open about their feelings towards the Change and suddenly you have others within the company feeling the same as them.

Or a couple of people in your team may have started to carry out some charity work and before you know it the whole team are involved and the energy of the team increases.

As a manager, can you imagine if you positively harnessed this?

Harness the energy and the mood
What would it look like?

Joe is a mature manager in terms of experience. Joe has had various degrees of success whilst managing teams. It has taken him some time to recognise, acknowledge and take responsibility for his own impact on the team’s productivity and motivation. Joe has recognised over the years that his own mood and productivity has greatly impacted the team’s mood and productivity.

If managed authentically his team can remain productive and motivated even when Joe doesn’t feel like it. After all, Joe is human and will have his down days as will the individuals within his team. Joe made the conscious decision to acknowledge this and supports the individuals when they are having a down day.

Joe has often received feedback from previous managers that he wears his heart on his sleeve, and this is seen as both a plus and negative. When Joe is baffled by this team mood or productivity he immediately looks at where he is mentally before looking at individuals; often he can see that the mood is down to his own projection and therefore aims to adjust his mood. It is not always a quick solution. Joe, where appropriate, will share with his team the reason for being downcast, and lo and behold, his team often support him with solutions and offers of help.

When there are issues that Joe is not influencing, Joe will consider how he can influence an individual or scenario to turn this into a positive and therefore productive outcome.

He knew that in order to be successful at this he must spend real time with his team and with them as individuals. Using team meetings and one-to-one’s he took the time to get a real understanding for the influences amongst his team; taking time to understand everyone on an individual basis. He started to recognise individual and group traits. He understood within his group who were creating social or emotional contagion instances, and he quickly learnt why. It was apparent to Joe that those individuals who had the greatest influence on the team and productivity (himself included) should be the individuals that he initially started to focus his attention on. Joe took additional time to understand these individuals, never neglecting the others within his team, he recognised that when these particular individuals where exceptionally happy or sad that the impact on the team was greatest (no surprise there). Joe acknowledged that having these individuals on board would make it easier to channel the correct emotional state to deliver the productivity and team motivation that was required. Within the one-to-one’s he started to understand the individuals likes and dislikes, their passions, career aspirations, reason for coming to work and more. This wasn’t a particularly cumbersome exercise, truth be told it was more about Joe actively listening and taking on board what was being said. Joe was fortunate, for most part his team were relatively positive and when negativity did appear he worked with the team or an individual to understand the triggers for these emotions. With this understanding, it allowed him to support the team and individuals whilst actively influencing the emotions and therefore change the outcome.

As Joe went through this process he also looked at the triggers for his own emotions. Whilst Joe would not claim to be an expert in this field he certainly has the mind-set to want to positively influence others.

Seven simple steps to start harnessing the power of emotional contagion within your team.

1. Observe how easily (or not) the team is influenced by your own and others emotions.
2. Recognise the key influencers in your team. Work with them rather than against them.
3. Ensure you have regular and recurring team and one-to-one meetings in your calendar.
4. Actively listen to what is being said, and observe the emotions associated with this.
5. Where appropriate look at alternative support mechanisms to work with the more negative emotions with the team.
6. Allow individuals to have their emotions. Understand that everyone is human and will have good and bad days.
7. Harness the influencers emotions to benefit the team and productivity (and of course yourself as the manager).

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