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Teamwork: The Engagement Multiplier

Engagement studies remain doggedly dismal. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of employees globally are less than fully engaged. We are all looking for the key levers we can use to change this equation for our own organizations. Luckily, a new study has uncovered a link we can all impact: Teamwork. In a recent HBR article, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall provide insights around ADP Research Institute’s most extensive and methodologically consistent study of engagement yet undertaken. The study involved a representative sample of working adults from 19 countries with 1,000 respondents in each country. They make a compelling case for focusing on work done on teams, concluding that the most powerful factor “was simply whether or not respondents reported doing most of their work on a team. Those who did were more than twice as likely to be fully engaged as those who said they did most of their work alone.”

At Trispective, we understand and believe in the power of teams.  We have researched thousands of teams and uncovered our own startling statistic: Over 80% of teams are not reaching their full potential. They could be stronger, more aligned, and more productive. Additionally, as Buckingham’s engagement study documents, teams need to be more agile, more capable of working remotely and globally, and quicker to ramp-up and flex as projects and situations change, than ever before.

As a leader, it’s important to understand the key elements that create the highest-performing teams. A team development approach that leapfrogs past the old model of “forming, storming, norming performing” is needed in today’s environment.  There just isn’t time to wait until scope is clear, relationships have formed over the years, or the business has stabilized. Through putting the right practices in place early, you can create healthy team behaviors, build trust, and set your team up for success much earlier than we thought possible in the past.

Here are the three ways we have found to be the most effective for creating unstoppable teams right from the start:

1.  Invest in trust-building, relationship-development activities early and often. Even if your team is temporary or project-based, trust is the key ingredient in effective teamwork.  In fact, in our research, we found that over 70% of the variance between top teams and toxic teams is directly correlated to the strength of peer relationships. Although it is tempting to dig right into driving results, especially when you are under pressure, spending the necessary time to help team members understand one another’s backgrounds, strengths, and personality preferences and styles will quickly build trust, good will, and the assumption of positive intent among team members.  This investment will pay dividends in how quickly teammates can gel.  It accelerates the inevitable time often wasted on personal conflicts, misunderstandings, and conflicting styles.

2. Build team norms. We all bring unspoken expectations with us to our new teams. These expectations are typically unconscious, driven by what we have experienced on previous teams. And, guess what? These expectations don’t all match! What should we be discussing at team meetings? Do we value candor and feedback with each other? How will we drive accountability?  What if someone on the team lets me down? Will you, as the team leader, solve our team conflicts? By having these types of conversations up front, and clarifying team norms of behavior, you can set a level playing field for all team members and set up productive team practices right from the start.  In fact, in our research, we found that the highest performing teams (those in the top 15 – 20% of our study) are 70 times more likely to have clearly stated norms than their dysfunctional counterparts. 

3. Define shared goals for the team. When team members don’t know each other well, and don’t know if they can truly rely on each other, it is easy to dig in individually and focus on personal agendas. Without a well-articulated mission for the team, with clearly identified goals and metrics, your team members might be working really hard, unfortunately, just on the wrong stuff. Spending time early on in a team’s journey to map out the shared team goals, discuss possible challenges or misalignments, and map out a plan for collaborative, connected work is critical.  Top teams are 55 times more likely to create shared goals and ensure the alignment of priorities to these team outcomes.

Think of it as truly getting double the amount of bang for your buck. Build your team and immediately impact the engagement of every one of your team members! Seems like a good investment to me.