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6 ways to Improve Team Morale for Free

Updated on July 5, 2015

No Budget, No Problem

For many years, I worked as a Manager at a large corporation. When I first started, each department Manager was given a monthly budget to spend on our teams in any way we saw fit. The most challenging decision was usually whether to recognize a few extraordinary individuals with a gift card or to treat the entire team to a nice lunch.

Sometime in 2013, our team budgets started to shrink, so our nice lunches became modest lunches, and our extraordinary performer’s received paper certificates of appreciation rather than gift cards. In early 2014 our team building budget was completely removed, and we saw many of our friends and colleagues receive layoff notices. We had no company funds to boost morale at a time when we needed it most.

Our first month without a budget, we decided that a pot luck was a good way to get the team involved and keep our monthly lunches going. Even though there were sign-up sheets posted all around the office, there weren’t many items on the list. I figured people were just afraid to commit and would probably decide on a dish at the last minute. When I arrived to the office on the day of the pot luck to a long table with 2 bags of chips, store bought cookies, and a 2 liter bottle of soda for 20 people, I knew I had a bigger issue on my hands than a failed potluck.

My team was disengaged and I had no budget to encourage participation in team activities or to monetarily reward individual efforts. This was one of those moments when I really had to squint my eyes (figuratively) to see that there was an opportunity here for me to be a better leader. I started researching inexpensive ways to build team morale. I sought help from friends, mentors, and people on my team that I knew would be understanding and willing to help.

Below are the top 6 team morale boosting ideas that I enjoyed implementing most with my team, and they are all free.

1. Give sincere and personalized compliments.

There’s nothing wrong with letting the team know as a whole that they’re all doing great, but it’s important to work in some individual recognition as well. If you’re one who thinks the person on the receiving end of the compliment is going to think you’re being fake and cheesy, then I challenge you pause and truly think about your team’s contribution to your success. If you are meeting deadlines, producing volume, maintaining quality standards, and making profits, then you owe thanks to your team. Surely there are a few individuals who are really shining and deserve to know you see their achievements and contributions, even those who are most improved appreciate recognition. If you take a minute to truly reflect on gratitude toward your team, you will never have to worry about being perceived as anything but genuine. We all enjoy being told that we are doing a good job, so share the good vibes!

2. Start a Conversation.

Sure we’re all at work to do a job and make money, but taking 5 to 10 minutes to interact with your team can be invaluable. How well do you know the individuals on your team? When people take an interest in us, it makes us feel like we are seen, and whether or not we admit it, all of us wants to be seen. By engaging with the people on our teams, we build strong relationships with them, and we create a more enjoyable environment for ourselves too. Even those who have personalities that you find difficult to connect with have interests outside of work. You might be surprised what you find out and what you have in common by simply asking “How was your weekend?” By starting out with simple questions, you’ll get to know the people you work with a little better. Eventually you’ll be asking how their child’s soccer game was or how preparation for an upcoming marathon is going without even thinking about it.

3. Celebrate a Random “Holiday.”

Did you know that July 9th is Sugar Cookie day? Or that August 10th is Lazy Day? Why not celebrate by wearing pajamas to work or house slippers if your work environment allows for it. If not, choose another day to celebrate that month or make up your own day! If veering away from dress code isn’t in the cards for your work environment, try decorating the office with items from the dollar store. If you find out someone on your team enjoys arts and crafts, ask them to help! Breaking up the normal day to day stresses with something silly helps create positive culture in the work place. Check out websites like and for an endless list of days to celebrate (I have no personal affiliation with these sites). Be sure to take pictures, you’ll want to circulate them later for laughs.

4. Allow Flexible Scheduling.

This one won’t be possible in every workplace, but if members of your team don’t need to be available during normal business hours to answer phones or help customers, try allowing 4 x 10 schedules. You could also allow your folks to “trade” one day for another day off. Sometimes this can be a win-win for you as employees may work the last Sunday of the month to help meet month end goals in exchange for the first Friday of the month off. If there is no good reason not to allow for this in your work environment, try it out and see what happens.

5. Let them wear Jeans!

It never ceases to amaze me how motivated people can be at the chance to wear jeans. This is another that won’t always be possible or desirable in some cases (those who work outside in south Florida won’t see this as a favor), but if you’re in a business attire work environment that only allows jeans on Friday, try throwing in an extra casual day. There is just something about waking up in the morning and putting on a pair of jeans instead of slacks that feels good to us. It’s a free and easy way to encourage high production with the reward of casual wear if goals are achieved. For best results, I recommend doing this daily or weekly rather than monthly. Jeans once a month isn’t really making or breaking team morale.

6. Play a Game.

Yeah Yeah, we’re supposed to be working. What is 30 minutes in the big scheme of things? Think of all of the employees who never take advantage of the two 15 minute breaks they are entitled to. Ask your team members to share something about themselves that their co-workers probably don’t know about them (but they don’t mind sharing), and then make a scavenger hunt out of it. This will break up the day and allow colleagues to get to know each other better because they’ll be asking each other questions. Another fun game is to write the names of famous people or cartoon characters on the “Hello, my name is…” stickers and then place one on each person’s back. Each person is only allowed to ask Yes or No questions to try to guess who their character is. Create a “statue” or trophy to give the winner for bragging rights until the next month’s game. We used to have a Green polka-dot Giraffe named “Gigi,” so it can literally be anything. As long as it makes people smile, it has served its purpose.

Have Fun.

Lastly, I’d like to say that I did find more success with potlucks with my team as time went on. I just had to be a little more “hands on” with my approach. I hope these ideas work for you, and at the very least I hope they’ve given you some ideas of your own. Have fun and Lead Proud my friends.


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