Recently, many people have asked me what more they can do as leaders to engage and connect with their teams during this time.
While these times are challenging, what’s needed to create great teams hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s just elevated its importance.
At its core, people are brought together into a team to get things done.
The rationale is that more gets done together, than alone. However, the merit of that logic depends on how well the team works together. And often engagement, connection and trust are absent.
Why? Because not enough effort is devoted to understanding how the team best works together. While the leader may spend a lot of time on the ‘what’ (i.e. the work the team needs to do), not enough attention is paid to the ‘how’ (i.e. how they come together to do that).
If you want to build a better team, a more engaged and dynamic team, then here are some tips to start.
Stop focusing on the wrong motivational levers
In 2010, researchers, Amabile and Kramer, asked leaders and employees what they thought motivated employees. The purpose of the research was to see if there was a difference in what managers thought motivated employees, and what actually motivated employees.
There were five options:
- Recognition for good work
- Incentive and rewards
- Sense of progress
- Clear goals and targets
- Inter-personal connections.
The managers thought that employees were motivated by being recognised for good work. However, that wasn’t what motivated employees. It was a sense of progress.
The researchers found that when workers thought they were making headway in their job, or when they received support that helped them overcome obstacles, their emotions were the most positive and their drive to succeed was at its peak.
In contrast, on the days when they encountered roadblocks and setbacks, their motivation was at its lowest. It’s incredibly demotivating when progress is impeded. People want to see that they are making headway and that their contribution is making a difference.
Have a clear purpose
Teams achieve more when they have a common goal and clarity on how they work together.
The team’s leader will usually know what each team member is doing and how each individual contributes to the whole. However, often team members don’t have the same level of understanding.
Sometimes this can be because two teams have recently been merged, and so the newly combined team’s purpose isn’t clear; nor is the role that each team member needs to play.
Regardless of the reason, this ambiguity breeds disengagement and distrust. It also means that team members can’t leverage each other’s skills as effectively. If you don’t know what someone does, you don’t know how they can help you (or vice versa).
Effective leaders know it’s critical to get the team working together to achieve a joint outcome as quickly as possible – so that the team is motivated to make progress on the right things, at the right time.
Build your team’s vision
A fundamental way of creating connection across the group is for the leader to spend time with them jointly developing the team’s vision and discussing how they collectively bring it to life.
There are several ways you can do this, and one of the key elements to include is the creation of a vision board. A vision board is essentially a summary of what your team wants to achieve and how you want to go about doing it. It’s visual and colourful, with images and words.
It’s not just words on a page. It needs to evoke energy, emotion and connection. This vision board can be displayed visually where the team works or as a screen saver image. It operates as a reference point – reminding the team on how they agreed to work together and what they want to achieve.
Work with your team’s strengths
Research conducted over the last 30 years, shows that taking a strengths-based approach leads to greater work satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. This is evidenced in Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s book, Strengths Based Leadership, where they detail how working with strengths helps leaders be more productive.
Leaders play a crucial role in bringing strengths to life at work – for both themselves and their team members. It starts with the leader understanding their strengths and how they are best used at work.
The next step is for the leader to help their team members:
Appreciate the strengths they bring to their role, and Recognise and value the strengths their colleagues bring to their role People are more motivated to strive when they use their strengths.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Often, we search for similarity. When we meet a person, and they seem ‘like us’ it makes us feel more comfortable. However, searching for similarity is problematic because it means we can too readily close ourselves off from people with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas.
The best teams embrace diversity. They recognise the richness that comes from diverse experiences, backgrounds and ideas. These ideas and experiences may well challenge your assumptions and expectations, and that’s good for learning, development and growth.
As the legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan, once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”