The COVID-19 work environment turned our experiences of team and employee engagement on their heads, particularly for teams working on-site prior to the pandemic. The entire world coped with the loss of normalcy and redefined privacy and camaraderie while maintaining the expectation of regular job performance for those still working. While we wait to see how the remote versus in-person engagement experience plays out, we must adapt to a new normal. As leaders, we must ensure engagement and nurture it in various ways as we navigate life through the pandemic.
Engagement starts with you, the leader. If you are a leader struggling with engaging your team, how do you adapt? As TD professionals, we are wired to analyze and identify a gap or problem, design and develop a solution, implement it, and measure it. How do you apply that methodology to your engagement problems? Can you clearly identify the engagement problems and successes of your team?
I have been lucky enough to work remotely and manage remote teams for more than a decade, so the pandemic shift wasn’t so hard for me. Here are some of the learnings and best practices that I’ve gathered as a remote leader:
First, start with you.Your team’s success falls on you, so ensure that you balance your time efficiently and set appropriate boundaries. You must take care of yourself before you can care for your team and manage their outcomes. Set a healthy example for how your team engages with one another.
Create a purposeful, regular communication cadence.Be focused and outcome-based when engaging your team. For example, each Thursday I had a leadership team meeting, each Friday morning I had one-on-ones with my team, and each Friday afternoon I had a meeting with my entire team. This worked well because I shared organizational information, and my team felt included. We discussed individual matters and positive or negative items. I let the team take the lead on solving problems. I ended the meeting with lighthearted topics such as weekend plans and family updates. All of this was intentional; I wanted the team to feel involved and to bond with one another. Friday afternoon was the perfect time to loosen up and have healthy engagement. Set up this process to:
- Nurture a sense of inclusion.
- Avoid miscommunications.
- Enable team members to lead, contribute, and collaborate.
- Create a sense of teamwork and community.
- Give insights into team dynamics.
- Build trust.
Work within the culture.I’ve found that organizational culture plays an overarching role in team engagement. What are the spoken or unspoken cultural values and norms around availability, independence and micromanagement, punctuality, hierarchy, and communication? These norms often dictate the nature of employee engagement. They also may dictate what and how much you can do to keep your team engaged. It’s unlikely that you can completely change a culture where people are swamped with tasks, don’t feel like they can speak up, or are expected to stay in their lanes. However, you can find opportunities within the culture to engage team members and keep them motivated:
- Delegate tasks or projects to help team members stretch or build relationships with others outside your team and remove tasks from your plate.
- Acknowledge any limitations and give team members opportunities to find solutions.
- Leverage the strengths of the culture and give team members ways to develop those strengths.
- Solve problems that are right in front of you.
- Encourage realistic boundaries.
For example, on Wall Street, I worked irregular hours under constant, unrelenting pressure. My leader encouraged my team to look for efficiencies and simplify our processes so that we could manage our own stress levels, feel a sense of accomplishment, and get stuff done. We regularly conducted a post-mortem to deliberate and implement lessons learned.
Make the team’s learning a priority.So often in TD, we serve others while neglecting ourselves. Give team members a chance to explore topics and trends in our field and have them teach those back to the team. Each quarter, I had my team members present an L&D or job-related topic that interested them. It was a great way to share passion, practice what we preach, develop our own expertise, and impact the products and services we provided to the company. The team loved it!
What concrete steps can you take to create or maintain good engagement? Even with the constraints and changes the pandemic imposes on us, there are many opportunities to activate engagement on your team and strengthen your own leadership abilities.