One of the most important elements of leading a team is engagement. The theory goes that engaged staff perform more effectively both individually and as a team, absenteeism decreases and staff health and well-being improves.
I have been leading teams for well over a decade now and constantly looking at ways of ensuring that the team is motivated and engaged. I have recently been reflecting with some of the current and former members of my team on what I believe works well, and thought it would be fab to share some of my top tips for team engagement:
- Celebrate and share successes – both big and small. I think it is important to recognise and encourage sharing of achievements whether it is something new that has been learnt, or a project that has been successfully completed, or some great feedback that someone has received from customers/peers/managers. Previously we did this via a whiteboard, now we do this via MS teams which is a great tool for communication. We have a channel called ‘Making a Difference’. I encourage staff to add these anytime, and give a bit of a nudge ahead of the monthly team meeting, where we talk through some of these and people can give a bit more detail if they wish. During 1.1s I also ask each member of the team to reflect on their last month and share with myself/ direct line manager their achievements. It isn’t always easy so I use some coaching to tease out what they are proud of, it really helps staff to feel positive about the contribution they are making to the team and the business.
- Create engaging team meetings – in my early days as a team manager, the team meeting would likely just be me talking and the team generally mute and yawning. So I was keen to make them more fun and get the team more involved and interacting! I was inspired by a conversation I had with a colleague from another organisation (Chris Tyson), to rotate the chair so it didn’t just fall to managers and allowed all members of the team to experience chairing and ensure the agenda was flexible and inclusive. I also introduced a game/quiz at the beginning of each team meeting, so that it would lighten the mood and get everyone on the same level. The chair gets to design the game/quiz, which is brilliant. They usually last 10-15 minutes maximum, and I have seen so many different amazing games/quizzes over the years; Pictionary, music quizzes, picture quizzes, darts, musical statues even…you name it we have had it. They are always guaranteed to pick everyone up, and make a great start to the meeting without eating up too much of the meeting time.
- Daily huddles – one major change following a rapid move to managing a large team remotely was the introduction of virtual daily huddles. I felt it was vital that we could continue to connect daily with the team once everyone was working from home, everyone was dealing with a mixture of circumstances and individual challenges. Whilst the primary role of the daily huddles (which vary between 10-30 minutes) is about giving us opportunity to check on priorities and share any issues, it was also about checking in on each person to see if they were ok. Over the last few months we have opted for the quick chat at start of meetings, initially for the first 9-10 months of COVID I introduced a daily question to get everyone engaged and talking. I kicked them off for first few weeks then everyone joined in offering to ask a question (e.g. What’s your favourite meal? Marmite – love/hate? Favourite holiday destination etc etc). It was a fab way of checking in with everyone and always guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s faces which we absolutely needed especially during the early days of the pandemic. I think I learnt more about my team over those few months than I have ever had before!
- Focus on people development – I am extremely passionate about ensuring that people get the most out of their roles and that I give everyone an opportunity to maximise their potential so I always promote professional development and time for learning. I have always role modelled and encouraged learning, both encouraging staff to block time out in their diary for focussed learning and making sure staff reflect on how much they are learning as they work. Learning is something that definitely motivates me! It is sometimes a challenge for staff to make time in their diaries for focussed learning, I always ensure my senior team are supporting the team to re-prioritise where possible to find this time. The payoff is so worth it and makes a huge difference to everyone in the long run.
- Lunch and learn – following on from the professional development focus, I also encourage the team to learn together. A few years ago I introduced ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where the each member of the team would bring some buffet food for sharing, and we would invite guest speakers from across the organisation to come and talk to us. Sometimes we would also get at least one of the team members to share some of their recent learning with the wider team. It was a great to share food and learning, and always went down really well. Whilst these haven’t been possible in exactly the same form over last 18 months with COVID it is something that seemed to be really effective at the time.
- Regular time out – team away days are one of my absolute must dos. For the last few years I have ensured that we have time out as a team at least a couple of times a years. These work much more effectively when we are away from the office/screen to help everyone switch off from their emails and never ending ‘to do’ lists. I always put in a process to ensure anything urgently comes via me so the team can focus on the day. I always try to mix these up, making sure others are involved in organising the day. A fun event and a team building activity are always included, plus time for reflection, time to share plans/visions for the future and food of course!
- Collaboration – I am a huge fan of Agile Project management which I believe, and have been championing for years, isn’t isolated to IT and software engineers. A huge element of Agile is collaboration and I have seen great success and achievements when people collaborate on pieces of work and projects. Sometimes getting people to collaborate and share is challenging, especially in the virtual world we have had to adapt to over the last year. I implemented MS teams with my team at the beginning of covid to help communication, using channels and chats to help sharing. I also implemented weekly sessions called ‘Connect and Collaborate’ that are at specific times twice a week where staff can bring along a challenge to get support from others in the team. These don’t occur every time but we use them when someone reaches out during the day and we think the challenge will need a few brains involved to share ideas and learning. We have had loads of successful sessions and the time has been invaluable and well received. Collaboration definitely shouldn’t be isolated to just within the team, collaboration with people outside of the team is also important to help deliver results and build quality relationships. This isn’t always easy as you don’t have as much influence or control over other teams so if you find this a challenge I would use Agile which gives you a framework to assist. Encourage the collaboration, and share when it works so others are keen to do the same.
- Shout outs – one thing that everyone appreciates is being appreciated and valued not just by managers but also by peers, staff and customers. As well as celebrating achievements through our ‘Making a Difference’ channel one thing that the team really value is ‘shout outs’. This gives everyone an opportunity to say thank you to an individual or a group who have done something to help them out; solved a problem, taught them something new etc
- Listen and learn – for me as a leader I am constantly striving to improve, so listening and responding is absolutely key. Understanding what challenges we face as a team and working together to find the best solutions is vital. Make sure to stop and listen (spot what is being said as well as what isn’t), then encourage problem solving together, don’t try to come up with all the answers and fix everything. Your role is to lead, not do everything. I sometimes struggle with this, as I get really excited and have so many ideas floating round my head. So holding back is essential, allow others around you to come up with ideas so they will feel engaged and valued.
- Share a vision – to help motivate and engage it is vitally important to share a vision. Whilst there might not always be an exact masterplan on how to get there it still important to share vision so that the team have shared objectives and can see where they are trying to get to.
- Trust – trusting people to do their job is really critical, as it makes people feel empowered to make decisions and learn. I am not a big fan of micromanagement especially as I have been on the receiving end of it in my early years as an analyst, and it didn’t bring out the best in me. When I was then allowed some autonomy and encouraged to be creative, I flourished and my motivation levels jumped. Occasionally it is needed to guide people, in my view it should generally be avoided. Staff need to feel trusted and feel comfortable in making some mistakes as long they as they are willing to learn from these and grow. Coaching and mentoring is a great way to create growth, without giving people all the answers. Trust is critical in team engagement.
- Model behaviour – When I was chatting about my blog to couple of people in my team they fed back that I set standards, and endeavour to role model these to my team. Unlike some of the tips I have shared it is not dead easy to explain but I guess in simple terms I have a responsibility as a leader to motivate and lead by example. I endeavour to stay solutions focussed and help the team work through challenges together, and I always remain future focussed and positive.
- Be authentic and personable – Whilst I am committed and passionate about my role and responsibilities, I think it is important to be real. This doesn’t mean unprofessional and doesn’t mean I share every inch of my personal life. I simply make sure I can have a laugh with people, I am not embarrassed to share personal stories, and I am willing to be vulnerable and admit when I am in the wrong. So be real, be you and people will respect you more.
Most of these are about communications which is probably pretty obvious; understanding how to communicate affectively takes time and energy. Don’t underestimate how important it is in keeping people informed of what is happening and what you are trying to do. If simply talking doesn’t help, get round a whiteboard and draw it up. Talk people through processes/steps visually and create energy to keep people engaged, and get them involved. Make sure people are on the same page, and messages haven’t been confused. Always ask for feedback, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers and you don’t always get it right.
It is not always easy managing teams (big or small), hopefully some of the above might give you some ideas for your team(s). It is important to continually review what is working and what isn’t. If something isn’t working, stop it and try something else. It all about the people and getting the most out of them so keep the people around as you engaged and motivated as possible, and see the results for yourself.
Hope you have enjoyed my blog.
Feedback always welcome.