It’s time for the next one of Paul Spencer’s articles on employee engagement – the second in his series on how to build and sustain a culture of employee engagement in your company. In Part 2, Paul discusses how the pressures of modern business make it hard for teams to work together, and proposes two fundamental steps to help overcome this problem. You can find out more about Paul on our “Our Resume” page, and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Building and Sustaining Engagement Part 2 – Aligning the Team
By Paul Spencer, PMP
You want your team to perform like a symphony orchestra, with each person an integral part of the harmonious whole. Unfortunately, they sound more like a pack of screeching cats. They know their jobs like concert musicians know their instruments, but they just can’t seem to play from the same score. What’s going wrong?
To bring melody from the noise, you need to work on your team’s alignment. In the modern business world, teams are thrust together and expected to deliver results quickly. We all know that people are different. We have unique personalities, diverse communication styles, and our own ways of getting things done. But we often don’t take the time to work through these differences and develop a connection. It’s no surprise that we can’t just click our fingers and make great music.
High performing, fully engaged teams are aligned in two critical ways. They know how to communicate with each other, and they share a common understanding of their values in the workplace. Why is that important? Gallup research has shown that between 72% and 80% of task breakdowns are caused by problems with teamwork, communication, or relationships. Engaged teams don’t have those breakdowns.
First, your team members need to know how to collaborate with each other. People have different communication and decision-making styles. When those styles clash, they often get angry and shut down, regardless of what’s being discussed. Here’s a personal example. I’m a “be bright, be brief, be gone” kind of person. I don’t need a lot of explanation and consideration. Tell me the options, I’ll make a decision, and on we go. But I have a close colleague whose style is the complete opposite. She wants to consider every detail and explore all the possibilities. And don’t even think about pressing her for a decision without first giving her time to consider it. When we first started working together, we were often too busy being mad at each other to ever get anything done.
But now we work together really well, because we understand how to communicate. I give her all the information and time she needs. She knows when I’ve lost interest and it’s time to move on to the next topic. And because we understand our different styles, we don’t take any of it personally.
There are a variety of tools and methods available to help your team understand how to work together, but the one my colleague and I used (and our favorite here at Positive Disruption) is Insights Discovery®. Insights is an assessment and development method that helps people understand their own preferences and those of their teammates. It gives practical tools and methods for adapting and connecting with each other. We use Insights with our clients wherever possible because it provides a common, accessible framework that rapidly closes those gaps created by different communication styles, and offers tools that enable everyone to contribute, regardless of their style.
Once your team is communicating more effectively, you can work on aligning them on their values – those things that matter most to them in the workplace. Communication has to come first, because alignment on values is difficult and intensive work. The team needs to know how to talk to each other to get through it unscathed.
The chaos of modern business can be dehumanizing. We’re all faced with many different challenges and priorities. When we’re so busy rushing from one crisis to the next, it becomes easy to forget that our colleagues are people, rather than a bunch of resources for getting the job done. By aligning on values, we learn and agree on what matters to us as people in the workplace.
If you want alignment that will stick, you have to let the team define their shared values. It’s not something that can be imposed from above. You need to do it as a concentrated effort, away from the usual workplace, to eliminate distractions. Engage an outside facilitator, to create a sense of openness and impartiality. Have the facilitator ask the team questions like: what really counts around here? What do we celebrate? How do we treat each other? What values, if violated, should result in discipline? That last one is important, by the way. It’s uncomfortable, but your team will thank you for enabling them to take on the tough stuff.
Here’s an example of the power of shared values. A guy I know was hired to run a troubled manufacturing plant. The plant was losing money, morale was low, and labor and management were at odds. One of the first things he did was to bring all the production employees together to define their core values. The team came up with a list of seven things: safety, quality, integrity, sense of urgency, teamwork, communications, and knowledge. They called it their “Commitment to Excellence,” and they posted it throughout the plant. The Commitment to Excellence became the core of everything they did. And the results were astounding: they reduced labor costs 23% while increasing pay scales 10%, cut waste by 34%, improved on-time orders from 74% to 99%, and slashed safety incidents by 70%.
When you’re surrounded by cacophony, it can seem like your team will never make music together. But it is possible to tame the chaos. Start by aligning your team on communication and values, and you’ll be enjoying that symphony before you know it.
At Positive Disruption, we specialize in helping teams create their own culture of sustained engagement through alignment on communication and values. We have extensive professional facilitation skills and experience, and are licensed to deliver the Insights Discovery® workshop.