In a previous post, I discussed tips and tools for engaging individuals at work. Now, I will discuss how to engage teams at work.
As always, I want to give credit where it is due. This blog post is inspired by Bob Chartier’s “Handcrafted Leadership” (2015) about the art of facilitation and engagement. If you are interested in the tips and tools that I share with you here, please check out his book.
It is clear that engaging individuals has significant benefits in terms of productivity and morale, but we still cannot ignore engagement on the other layers of an organizations structure.
Bob Chartier highlights in his book “Handcrafted Leadership” the need to engage people in organizations on the following levels:
- The System
What do you think about when you hear “engaging teams”? We often think about team engagement as team building activities such as a two-hour meeting, a team-building session, the old close your eyes, fall back and let others catch you technique, or a team-building course. That is the traditional mental model of team building.
Those activities may have a degree of effectiveness. However, as our understanding grows about team dynamics, we will need to shift our mental model about what team building is. For example, we now recognize that there are major benefits of building a culture within teams through continuous engagement, not necessarily one offs here or there.
There are benefits of one-off team building activities though. As Alan Loy McGinnis (late psychotherapist) in his book “Bringing out the Best in People” identifies, one technique to create high morale in teams is to “plan occasions for people to be away together”. He asserts that there is an interesting phenomenon observed by sending teams away out of their usual environment. They become more creative, open to new ideas and tend to form strong bonds rather quickly. So, sending them off for a few days together to a resort with planned activities, or a conference or something like that is an excellent tool to build team comradery.
As effective as this type of one-off is, it is just one tool within a suite of techniques to engage your team. Regular engagement with teams to build a culture of excellence, in addition to Alan Loy McGinnis’ advice, has proven to be effective for both its development and maintenance.
Bob Chartier recommends several tools for continuous engagement of teams which will be discussed below.
Tools to Engage Teams
- The Daily Stand-Up Meeting. This tool is not time consuming and should occur daily at a scheduled time. The time you choose may depend on your team or the type of work you do. Mornings will work well with highly structured and organized workloads. However, if it is not highly structured then employees may not know exactly what their day will look like. In that case, this type of meeting may be best scheduled in the early or late afternoon. Everyone on the team stands around so they can see each other. Each person will have 1-2 minutes each to say how they are doing and what they are up to that day. This is also a good opportunity to disseminate information, give praise or congratulations, and get to know your employees personally. Not only does this tool engage teams, but it gives the leader an excellent opportunity to keep their fingers on the pulse on the team, the lives of individuals within it, and to observe team dynamics.
- The One-Hour Meeting Space/ Preventative Maintenance. Arrange for a one-hour meeting time in a quiet, comfortable space once a week, month, quarter or even year. This time is intended for good conversations. Make this meeting a ritual and make it mandatory. Bring snacks. This is not intended to be a time for brainstorming, problem solving or working on core-work duties. Just facilitate meaningful and rich conversation about what is going on. Again, this is an opportunity for you as a leader to get to know your team, but also for the group to develop bonds.
- The Team Charter. The team charter is not something set in stone, it can be continually revised. It is a conversation about how a team will get work done effectively. Too often we focus on the “what”, this is a document about the “how”. It may not translate to a document, but the most important thing about it is the conversation. It is a conversation about how the team wants and needs each other to work together to get things done effectively with excellence. The team charter should be viewed as a work activity, not an activity for your retreat or team-building sessions. It is work – not play and needs to be approached with that mentality.
Engaging Teams Remotely
While you can use the above tools remotely over some video conferencing service, the dynamic of teams will have changed. Many of our leaders are weary of remote work, telework agreements and the lack of direct contact with people. There are many benefits of providing remote work options to your employees which deserves its own post here. But we have now been forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. It is unfortunate and sad that many organizations were not prepared for working remotely due to their insecurities about it.
Luckily, Simone Sloan from Forbes shed some light on how to engage teams remotely in an article found here.
- Trust. Your employees need to feel like you trust them. If you are a leader ho tends to micromanage and limit the creativity of your staff, you may need to reflect on how effective this leadership style can be while working remotely. Your team now desperately needs that feeling of autonomy to get their work done. Micromanagement can undermine that sense of trust. If you dont trust them, can they trust you?
- Set Boundaries but Provide Flexibility. Providing flexibility in how they work can help secure and maintain team motivation.
- Connect with Your Team Daily. This is a bit of advice that is not necessarily about how much you connect, but rather ensuring regular quality connections. You can use the stand-up tool here, or get more creative, encourage team members to share their experiences and show their personalities – make it fun. Good motivators know the importance of knowing their team on a personal level. There is no one sure-fire way to motivate all. Motivation plans need to be personalized, so keep your fingers on the pulse on individuals as well as the team. This connection will serve several functions. But importantly, some people will struggle more than others with remote work. There will be varying degrees of stress and discomfort. Humans are social creatures. Creating a connection with people can reduce that discomfort of isolation.
- Show Confidence in Your Team – Expect Greatness. People need to feel safe where they work and that includes at home too. Your team needs to feel confident without excess fear-induced stress about negative consequences. If you are not confident, then build confidence. You can do this be jointly creating expectations and goals together. It shows that you respect your team by including them in the process.
- Provide Regular Feedback. People desperately want feedback. It lets them know that their work is acknowledged. It also gives them a chance to be recognized and improve.
- Watch Your Emotions. We are all stressed out about the pandemic. The last thing your employees need is a Negative Nancy leading their team. This can be very demoralizing.
- Let People Be Themselves. Create an inclusive environment, where people can provide value and have fun while working without feeling like they are walking on eggshells – they need the freedom to be themselves. The moment you provide negative reinforcement for people being themselves is the moment you endanger their individuality. Threatening one’s individuality is offensive, heart-breaking and devalues that person at their core. People want to be part of a cohesive team, but we need our individuality to be valued, not punished.
This post was intended to open a discussion about how to engage teams. In conclusion, keep connected with your team, respect them as people, stay positive, and never waiver on your high standard of excellence. There is an art to maintaining excellence without damaging team morale. Be tactful, inclusive, and open to acknowledging and tapping into the potential of your staff, remotely or otherwise.
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