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How to Build Company Morale: 15 Mantras Every Team Should Live By


Mountain climbers reaching the peak of a rocky mountain.

Inspiration can come from surprising sources.

But when it may seem easy enough to pull a favorite quote to stick on your mirror each morning or to show up as a reminder on your phone screen, motivating a whole group of people can be much more difficult. What is something that works to inspire everyone?

Enter the mantra.

These straightforward turns of phrase can be gently massaged to apply to any snag in a group work dynamic. And who knows, you may find yourself repeating them under your breath each morning. You can always create your own or turn finding your team mantra into a bonding activity.

Here are a few famous ones to get you started:

Eat the Frog

In the business world, this generally translates to “do the worst, first.” Find the one thing for the day you’re dreading doing and then get it out of the way. A team that’s willing to tackle the hardest problems first will sail through everything else together.

Listen to Your Gut

We didn’t come through billions of years of evolution just to ignore our one primal instinct that’s still functionally applicable to modern life. If someone on your team speaks up about a gut instinct, trust them to go with it. And you should do the same.

Be the Light

Edith Wharton and Oprah both believe in embodying positivity and supporting members of your team so that everyone can succeed. Wharton has famously said you can “be the candle” or “the mirror that reflects it”–either way you’re spreading inspiration and encouragement throughout your team.

Make Your Way

Another favorite mantra to keep plastered in meeting rooms comes from Elizabethan poet SIr Philip Sidney, “Either I will find a way, or I will make one.” Entrepreneurs leading teams into unknown territory without a roadmap or leading company to imitate may especially feel this one.

Find Your Own Opportunities

Comedian and actor Milton Berle famously said that if opportunities weren’t knocking for you, perhaps you first needed a door. Sometimes in order to get started, you have to jumpstart creating your own opportunities—something an ambitious team will be more than happy to do.  

“Yes, and…”

Media all-star Tina Fey and other Saturday Night Live alumni tout the famous improv principle of “yes, and…” It means saying yes to the possibilities presented by others before adding your own value. This is crucial for teams during brainstorm sessions.

Win Championships Instead of Games

It’s not a motivational list without a nugget from the original GOAT. When talking about the importance of the long-term, Michael Jordan said: “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” After suffering minor failures, remind your team that this about the championship—not the game.  

Decide What to Do With the Time You’re Given

Whether you’re Beyonce running a world tour, or Frodo walking the One Ring into Mordor, your challenges all come down to one thing: time. It’s how your team uses it that gets you a few steps forward toward your goal.

Be Willing to Fall

It’s no surprise that the queen of vulnerability, Brene Brown, advocates for comfort with failure. As she puts it, “There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise.” Failure is a learning moment for your team—not something that will keep them down forever.  

Be Like “Fight Club”

On the failing front, once you’ve tried and failed at every known path, then you can start doing anything—the unknown, the undiscovered, the unheard of. Lose everything, do anything—right, Chuck? Just don’t actually punch each other as hard as you can.  

Celebrate Naiveté

Not knowing something isn’t bad. If anything, it should be exciting for the team. It’s a moment for some to share what they know and for others to learn. One side of this gets to reinforce their understanding by teaching, the other gets the benefit of tutoring from teammates they know and trust. It’s crucial for a good team dynamic for everyone to understand it is never a bad thing to say, “I don’t know.”

Embrace the Suck

Sometimes when you’ve first started a project, it really sucks. But don’t let that stop your team. Embracing the suck means acknowledging that this first go wasn’t the best it could be, and then looking for ways to improve on the next draft.

Make Excellence Reality

Famed NCAA coach Joe Paterno has said that the moment “excellence becomes reality” is when your team learns confidence together. Find ways to foster this type of group trust in your team and you’ll be on your way to very real results in no time.

Be Real With One Another

If “politeness if the poison of collaboration” (Edwin Land) then being honest with your teammates must create an antidote. Of course, there’s a line to toe between being honest and being rude. It’s possible to communicate what needs saying politely without being poisonous.

Manage Things, Lead People

Finally, this one is for you as the team leader. Remember that people are complicated with lots of unwieldy emotions and erratic impulses. They won’t be “managed” and stay in place like boxes on a shelf. They need to be led—like horses on a new trail up the mountain or intrepid explorers in a new country.

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