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The secret to getting your team engaged


EngagedMany supervisors, managers and team leaders bemoan the fact that their team is not totally engaged with what they are trying to achieve. Bob Selden suggests some solutions.

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

Where do your team members stand? Before you answer that, it is worthwhile revisiting the definition of the word 'engagement'. It is:

  • The act of engaging or entering into contest
  • That which engages; engrossing occupation; employment of the attention
  • The state of being engaged, pledged or occupied; specifically, a pledge to take someone as husband or wife
  • Photo of Bob Selden"People can become very effective as a team when they have a common external pressure, such as winning a contest."

    I believe we can gain some ideas about engaging our teams by taking a lead from each of the three definitions: namely, 'external contest', 'engrossing' and 'pledge to take on'. Here are some tips based on these three elements that I have used successfully in building engagement within teams.

    Define the external contest

    People often pull together as a team when they are faced with an external threat that is common to everyone in the team. This often happens in cases of takeovers and mergers where people who might previously have been a loose working group, with little in common, are suddenly faced with an external threat 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. They bond successfully together as a team to fight the common enemy.

    But people can also 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 the threats and opportunities the team can bond around.

    Provide engrossing challenges

    It will be extremely difficult to get team member engagement if the work they 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 their work is able to be measured, preferably by each team member themselves
  • Recognition for achievement: Recognise team members for the work they do well and encourage team members to praise one another. Build a culture of recognition by finding at least one team member doing something well every day and praise them for it
  • Responsibility: Encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Allow them to make decisions within their area of responsibility
  • Meaningful, interesting work: Give people work they find satisfying. Look for ways to make the work more interesting. Ask the team for 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'll know when you're successful at this, when your fellow managers keep wanting your people to join their team. When you develop this type of team culture, you'll have people lining up at your door wanting to be part of the most successful team
  • Get team members to pledge their commitment

    This doesn't mean getting people to stand and sing the company song. It means getting team members on board by being attuned to their values and motives and aligning these with your team direction. How do you do this? Below, I've outlined how you can run a workshop that embodies commitment.

    "It will be extremely difficult to get team member engagement if the work they do is dull and boring."

    I have used the following process with many teams and found it embodies all three of the engagement principles: 'defining the contest', 'getting team members to pledge their commitment' and 'providing engrossing challenges'.

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

  • What drives you to succeed at work? List as many things as come to mind
  • 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. For example, say to them: '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 stop doing) that will help make our team more like our ideal team?

    3. What are those things that will work against the team moving towards our ideal?

    4. From the list, what are the two or three most important things we must do to achieve this ideal team status?

    5. On the other hand, what are the two or three things we must avoid doing if we are to achieve our ideal?

    Develop an action plan with timelines and check points over the next six months to assess progress. Make sure you follow up on these regularly. 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 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.

    Bob Selden is author of 'What To Do When You Become The Boss'- a self help book for new managers. For more information visit: He also coaches at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney. Click here to see the latest articles on employee feedback, motivation and training from the National Learning Institute.

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