Managers: What’s your team’s engagement score?

(Attention! This will be on the test)

, , February 16, 2017

“What’s on your mind?

A full room of professional men and women kept asking each other this question at a recent event with Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of the Coaching Habit. Then, there was another question – What else?” Hearing what the person in the next seat had to say, many leapt to offer advice. It’s the listening that proved much harder.

That, of course, was the point. Listening is more difficult than giving advice. We are hard-wired to control, command and press on with solutions. Stilling our mind to take in what comes our way sounds like language from meditation classes. But, if we don’t listen in business, how can we hear the quiet whispers of change before others do?

Asking your team “What’s on your mind?” can change everything. Why? Because it flips our ingrained  top-down advice bias on its head. Now, the spotlight is on the team. They think things through and express what they think. Managers listen. Both dig deeper, until they get to the heart of what matters. Then, a-ha! A light bulb goes on.

Sadly, when deep conversations don’t happen, something else may – the disengagement malaise. We either tune in or we tune out. According to ADP Canada (client), a company that provides cloud-based human capital management solutions, a whopping two-thirds of Canadian employees are ready to walk out the door. Nearly one in two are less productive than they could be.

Just think about this. Half the folks in those cubicles could be flight risks. That has strategic implications.

Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella say a culture where employees have the freedom to chase and abandon new ideas has a greater impact on business than any one product a company can make. That’s engagement – when finding the next a-ha moment is everyone’s job.

What’s your organization’s engagement score? Here’s an easy test to get a read on it.  For each “yes” to the questions below, you get one point.

1. Do you have the right team?

It’s a no-brainer: you need to hire and keep the right people. That’s every leader’s number one job. But an all-star team will not automatically win (or, in the language of business, create and sustain a competitive advantage). It’s a start, but not a guarantee of success.

2. Does your team play well together?

Some call it “chemistry,” some call it “gelling.” It’s the elusive quality of how the teams play (and work!) together that makes the whole bigger than the sum of its parts. It cannot be drummed up with newsletters or PowerPoints. It comes from someplace deeper.  The team needs to be in it together. Engaged. Believing. Playing to win.

3. Does your team buy into your mission?

Communication and HR people call it “employer branding” – getting people to understand and get excited about where the organization is going. The buy-in is deepest when we all feel we are part of something meaningful; when we contribute and even influence it somehow.  Do your team members feel “a part of”?

4. Do you share control?

Here’s the scary bit. Do we actually want everyone to participate in strategy and mission? Business, after all, is not a democracy. However, engagement is about sharing some control, and it works best when the empowerment of the team does not overwhelm the managers. Is this something you are comfortable with?

5. Is there an open conversation?

Make sure the conversations flow, and your words and actions match. No mixed messages. Want more collaboration but reward individual achievement? You’ll have stars, not team players. Want to break silos but incentivize the teams to protect their own territory? Your all-stars will compete, not collaborate.

So, don’t be afraid to loosen up and play together. Beware though: if your score is anywhere below five, fasten your seat belt for a bumpy ride.