Posted by David Scult

Tags: Tips & Tools

Every company faces challenges from time to time, and a temporary setback or tough sales climate can easily affect employee morale, especially at startups and small businesses. With 2013 upon us, I've been thinking about the ways business leaders can re-invigorate their teams and keep employee enthusiasm high in the months ahead.istock_000021113128xsmall_1

A recent Inc. blog post by Karl Stark and Bill Stewart, the co-founders of strategic advisory firm Avondale, offered a series of tips for improving morale during tough times. Stark and Stewart suggested leaders maintain transparency, embrace alternative approaches and encourage team bonding.

When it comes to maintaining transparency, they warned against "partial transparency," which occurs when leaders reveal details to employees only when it's convenient. In tough times, being open about the situation will curtail the spread of confusing, mixed messages. It's important to open lines of communication and continue to help the team understand what's happening.

"This takes time - your team won't be comfortable after a single conversation," Stark and Stewart wrote. "Encourage multiple discussions - in groups, in person, or on the phone. Rumors and innuendo are more damaging to business than almost any setback, so fight them with full honesty and transparency."

They also recommended finding ways to bring workers together for team bonding and social interaction, like a coffee break. Socializing provides a distraction and burst of optimism in the face of challenging situations, but it’s also a natural context in which to build trust and work through problems more creatively.

Creating a successful, social communication strategy in an increasingly virtual work environment can be tough, of course - many of us are more likely to send an email than to call, video chat or socialize in-person with a coworker. A recent Business Insider interview with Katherine Graham-Leviss, founder of coaching company XBInsights, addressed some approaches for successfully communicating with a virtual workforce in particular.

Graham-Leviss explained the importance of finding a communication strategy that caters to each individual. Some employees will be happy with email communication, while others want verbal interaction. One of the most effective approaches she recommended is visual communication technology.

"Any time you can take advantage of that type of technology, you should, more and more," she said.

This brings us back to Stark and Stewart's recommendation of embracing alternative approaches.  We all need to learn from our setback and the beauty of being a small business owner is that you can experiment ogradually, without a long drawn out planning process.