by Renee Mill, Clinical Psychologist
Originally published in INTHEBLACK, March 2008
For ease of reading, managers will be referred to in the female gender and team members will be referred to in the male gender. However, the message pertains equally to both genders.
The other day I saw an advertisement aimed at corporations for “team breathing”. I was amazed at the ingenuity of these consultants wanting to earn big bucks from organisations through promising to build teams. This strategy is not new. Over the past 30 years, consultants from all backgrounds have come up with all sorts of exciting team building exercises that are supposed to meld a team and improve team success. There has been raft building, drumming, parachute folding, and golf to name a few and now it is promised that just breathing together will offer financial rewards.
While I do see the value of teams interacting outside of work tasks and have experienced the good feelings that come from drumming together, there is no evidence that there are long term bottom line benefits. Managers I have worked with have expressed to me their difficulty in getting the best results from their teams on a daily, weekly or monthly basis even after employing team building exercises.
The reason team building exercises fail to elicit improved results at work, is that their emphasis is on group dynamics. In order to improve productivity, you need to improve team engagement which occurs on an individual basis. You see, it is the relationship between the manager and each team member that determines team engagement. It does not matter how well teams play together, if the manager does not have a relationship with her team individually, she* will not get the results she wants.
What is team engagement? My definition is: “it is the ability to bring out the best in each team member in an ongoing way”. It means motivating each staff member to work hard and to be committed to team goals. It implies encouraging each person on the team to participate mentally and physically in group challenges and to be emotionally and intellectually committed to the success of the organisation.
The benefits of engaging a team are enormous. Engaged employees go the extra distance; are more productive; have lower stress levels; greater work satisfaction and stay longer with the organisation. Disengaged employees cost the Australian economy $31.5 billion a year through loss of productivity, sick leave and even sabotage!
If you are a manager, know that it is very easy to engage your team. It takes a bit of time as you need to make “quality time” for each of your team players. It also takes a bit of work as you need to make the effort to get to know each individual. However, the pay off for this time and effort is enormous.
Simply put, here are some of the things that will help you to engage your team.
Get to know each person by name and always address them by the name they prefer. Speak respectfully and find out if there are cultural or religious differences. For example you may think it is appropriate to make eye contact or shake hands but culturally your team member finds this offensive.
Knowing details of family structure is vital for a person to feel valued. Knowing whether there is a partner and/or children and their names is very helpful and inquiring about the family on a regular basis will endear you to your employee. Equally important is having knowledge about how long your employee has been in Australia and whether they have a support system here or whether they feel isolated and alone.
By now you may be feeling resistant to my suggestions and thinking that you work for a serious business which has financial targets and you cannot possibly be a social worker to your team. However, that kind of thinking is precisely where poor managers go wrong. Organisations, no matter how large, are made up of individuals like you or me who have lives outside of work that are intrinsic to who they are. When you focus on targets and not individuals then you do not always get the results you want.
Communicating effectively with each worker is essential if you want a job done and therefore knowing language limitations and cultural differences facilitates communication. Take the time to make sure your employee truly understands what you require of him. Sometimes the reason for not getting results is simply a communication breakdown which can be subtle.
Engagement is also facilitated when you articulate the vision of the organisation because often individuals are focused on their role and forget the big picture. Make sure you remind everyone of the vision regularly. Showing each team member where they fit in and the contribution they are making to the overall success of the business is very motivating. Knowing what makes an individual tick will help you to tailor make incentives. We are not all driven by the same things and managers make the mistake of treating all team members as a homogenous bunch. One person may want a financial incentive while another wants time off to be with the family. Generation Y employees look for opportunities to grow and develop and sport fanatics will be excited by tickets to major games. Everybody works harder when they have an incentive that appeals to them. Each incentive can be equal in that the financial worth is the same but the shape it comes in should be unique to each individual.
Since many people work long hard hours, a lot of their socialisation takes place at work. Working with people who are like minded, or have a similar back ground, can be very motivating. When placing teams together take this into account and you will find the teams more energised and productive.
While some people come to work, do their work and go home, many want flexibility in terms of the way they can do things and the hours they work. Unless it is job, such as a receptionist, who has to be at her desk from 9 till 5, allow individuals flexibility. A morning person who comes in early and leaves early will be of great benefit to you. Should you insist this morning person come in later and stay late, then not only will he not be overly productive but he will become resentful of you. Some people like structure and clear guidelines while others are more entrepreneurial. Wherever feasible, allow each individual to express their work style. As long as targets are met, it really does not matter what route was taken to get there. What will matter is the level of personal fulfilment and enthusiasm of each team member. People change and grow over time. Speak to your team members regularly and find out what is happening in their lives and what they want from work. Six months ago they may have wanted to work extra hours to make more money but now they have a baby and want to work less. By relating to the person and trying to accommodate needs while still achieving targets, you will find each individual striving their hardest to “return the favour”. You may worry that you will lose but trust me; it becomes a win/win situation.
If you find it hard to implement these strategies, then you need to take the time to understand yourself better. Just as I am recommending that you find out what makes the individuals you manage tick, what motivates and drives them, so too I recommend that you do the same for yourself. Do a little soul searching. Ask yourself why you are not getting the best out of your team and how you can do things better. When you find the answers and make changes to your behaviour, your engagement with the process will improve too. Good luck!