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The secret to team engagement

May 14, 2013 Articles, Teams & Team Building No Comments
Team engagement

Does “team engagement” mean asking your team to sign a formal document, or have them all stand and sing the company song?

Hardly (although I have heard of organisations doing just that).  What “team engagement” does mean is getting your team members on board by being attuned to their values and motives and aligning these with your team direction.  How do you do this?

Many supervisors, managers and team leaders bemoan the fact that their team is not totally engaged with what he or she is trying to achieve.  Is it poor communication on the boss’s part?  Lack of direction?  Lack or little motivation from the team members?

A recent survey by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that from a study of 50,000 employees worldwide, only 11% reported that they felt fully engaged in their current work, 76% felt neither engaged nor disengaged and 13% felt fully disengaged.

Where do your team members stand?

  • Fully engaged?
  • Neither engaged nor disengaged?
  • Disengaged?

Before you answer that, or perhaps start putting the names of some of your team members into the three categories, it is worthwhile revisiting the definition of the word “engagement”:

  • The act of engaging, pledging, enlisting, occupying, or entering into contest.
  • The state of being engaged, pledged or occupied; specifically, a pledge to take some one as husband or wife.
  • That which engages; engrossing occupation; employment of the attention; obligation by pledge, promise, or contract an enterprise embarked in.

I believe we can gain some ideas about engaging our teams by taking a lead from each of the three definitions – namely, “external contest”, “pledge to take on” and “engrossing”.

What happens in practise?

Do organisations engage their people by “defining the contest”, “getting them to pledge their commitment” and “providing engrossing challenges”?  In their studies of some 300 organisations who were actively working on team engagement strategies, the Corporate Leadership Council summarised the strategies of the more successful organisations.  Can you see the three elements of engagement in their strategies?  The successful strategies were:

  • Diagnosing the urgency of the engagement challenge
  • Determining the organizational strategy that engages managers and employees
  • Creating engagement opportunities to enable employee contribution
  • Framing an engaging structure that builds organizational credibility with employees
  • Benchmarking engagement over time for continuous improvement

Here are some tips for building team engagement that I have used successfully.

1.  Define the external contest to build team engagement

People often work best together and pull together as a team, when they are faced with some kind of external threat that is common to everyone in the team.  You may have experienced this yourself at some stage.  For instance, this often happens in cases of takeovers and mergers where people who might previously have been a loose working group (sometimes with not a lot in common) are suddenly faced with an external threat that they can’t quite understand or manage.  Often in these situations, they focus on the things they can manage and the things they do have in common.  The external “they” or “them” becomes the common enemy that they can all relate to – they rally around one another to fight this common enemy.  Something out there in the environment has come to be seen as a common threat and so, they bond successfully together as a team to fight the common enemy.

But people can also pull together and become very effective as a team when they have a common positive external pressure, such as winning a contest, or being seen as the “best” team.  As a team leader, the secret is to identify what in the external environment might be the threats and opportunities the team can bond around.

2.  Get team members to pledge their commitment to build team engagement

Does this mean getting them to sign a formal document, or have them all stand and sing the company song?  Hardly (although I have heard of organisations doing just that).  What it does mean is getting your team members on board by being attuned to their values and motives and aligning these with your team direction.  How do you do this?  At the end of this article, I will outline how you can run a workshop that embodies commitment.

3.  Provide engrossing challenges to build team engagement

It will be extremely difficult to get team engagement if the work that your team members do is dull and boring.  All the studies of motivation over the last 50 years include at least the following to build motivation:

  • Achievement – people need to see results for what they do. Make sure that their work is able to be measured, preferably by each team member themselves.  They should also have team goals as well as individual goals.
  • Recognition for achievement – praise and recognise team members for the work that they do well. Encourage team members to praise one another. Set the example and build a culture of recognition by finding at least one of your team members doing something well every day and praise them for it.
  • Responsibility – encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Allow them to make decisions (without the need to refer to you) within their area of responsibility.
  • Meaningful, interesting work – ensure the work is meaningful to each individual. Assign people to work that they find satisfying. Look for ways to make the work more interesting – get your team members involved by asking for their ideas on how to make their jobs more interesting.
  • Growth and advancement – provide team members with the opportunity to develop themselves both personally and professionally. Your aim is to have the most marketable team members in the organisation. You will know when you are successful at this, when your fellow managers keep wanting your people to join their team. When you develop this type of team engagement culture, you’ll have people lining up at your door wanting to be part of the most successful team.

How to get started?

In addition to some of the points mentioned above that you can implement immediately (e.g. daily, look for someone doing something well and praise them for it) , plan and run a workshop (preferably off site) to set the tone for team engagement and to gain commitment.  I have used the following process with many teams and found it embodies all three of the team engagement principles – “defining the contest”, “getting team members to pledge their commitment” and “providing engrossing challenges”.

The Ideal Team – a team engagement workshop process

Ask your team members to write down (preferably prior to the workshop) answers to the following two questions:

Picture yourself at your normal place of work -

  1. What drives you to succeed at work? List as many things as come to mind.
  2. What are the aspects about your work (or place of work) that you value?

At the workshop, ask people to contribute points from their answers, e.g. “Keeping in mind the work values you have just identified, develop a picture of our team as it might look if you could describe it as my ideal team

  1. What do you want our team to look like in six months time? This should be a team that will enable you to achieve your goals and provide job satisfaction.
  2. What are the things that we can do (or not do) that will help make our team more like your ideal team?
  3. What are those things that will work against the team moving towards your ideal?
  4. From the list, what are the 2 or 3 most important things we must do to achieve this ideal team status?
  5. On the other hand, what are the 2 or 3 things we must avoid doing if we are to achieve our ideal?
  6. Develop an action plan with time lines and check points over the next 6 months to assess progress. Make sure you follow up on these regularly.
  7. Finally, ask each team member to nominate publicly “The one most important thing I can do to help us become the ideal team is . . . “

I’m sure that adopting and implementing the three principles of team engagement in everything that you do as a team leader will soon have your team mentioned around the organisation as “the ideal place to work”.  Watch out for the rush!

© 2013 Bob Selden, The National Learning Institute

 


About the Author -

Bob Selden is the author of the best-selling “What To Do When You Become The Boss” – a self-help book for new managers – see details at http://www.whenyoubecometheboss.com/. He’s also coached at one of the world’s premier business schools, the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and regularly advises managers around the globe on their current challenges. Please add your comments to this article or contact Bob via http://www.nationallearning.com.au/contact if you would like some free advice on your current management challenge.

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