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Vernon Bryce

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Why focus on engaging teams?

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Now’s the time to re-energise your teams for a more productive workforce, says Vernon Bryce.
 
Of the many adverts using the latest ‘must have’ messages like ‘you need’, ‘have you heard’, ‘the essentials of’ and, ‘new to our current ongoing portfolio of e-lessons’, the words ‘team’, also ‘engagement’  must feature strongly in any of the popular global top five business imperatives. Here we focus on these imperatives, engaging teams, based on what recent research suggests we need to do better.
 
Why focus on engaging teams? Three reasons come to mind:
  • many of us work in teams; some performing well, some not so well; fresh  evidence to steer us would be valuable
  • much of  the current guidance on teams is worryingly opinion-based; we need more evidence-based guidance
  • applying robust evidence is less hit or miss, more likely to accomplish better team  performance, cohesion and stability
So is there any fresh evidence? A recent 2012 study of 15 million respondents, employees across over 300 companies globally, 750 million responses over a three year period, has revealed something very interesting and immediately applicable to teams. The study set out to discover which factors or combination of factors are most important to teams, or indeed if there is perhaps a ‘super factor’ of overriding importance or priority. This current and extensive research shows that six factors matter, and apply all at the same time.
 
Let’s assume for a moment (and it is a big assumption I will return to later), that the perfect balance of team membership is in place, goals are clear and the ‘usual’ hygiene factors are satisfied. Then, what are the key differentiating factors between the more engaged and the less engaged teams, i.e. team efficiencies and effectiveness? How can current teams achieve more and what are the implications for setting up and managing teams going forward?
 
In essence, the research discovered teams self-scoring highly on the following behaviours are much more engaged, by several degrees:
  • Vision: they believe in an outstanding future for their team, and this vision is clearly linked to their task
  • Recognition: each team member knows their contribution is valued and their productive behaviours are recognised
  • Trust: the team’s leadership is trusted and all the team commit to ethical decisions and conduct
  • Growth and Development: the team sees opportunities to learn and grow; also to advance themselves
  • Support and Inclusion: team members feel part of their team and feel also supported through change
  • Communications: the team knows their ideas and opinions count and there is open and honest communications.
At this point the question ‘so what?’ is closely followed by ‘now what?’ First, what are we doing to embed key behaviours that boost team engagement in our teams? The opportunity is for team training as a team; perhaps co-incident to team task, goals and methodologies being briefed in? Recently formed or long standing teams would enjoy and learn from short, energising, evidence-based curricula devised with practical demonstrations and development of these behaviours. This approach would have immediate returns on investment in teams, and would re-energise team processes and their outcomes.
 
Second, how are we applying findings to team and team leader sourcing and selection? Many team selection decisions and criteria do not include these or any specific behavioural criteria for team success or indeed make it secondary to subject matter expertise; or just hope. We cannot imagine an oil rig team or passenger airline cabin crew, or indeed production or management team selected based on hope. The six behavioural areas can be formulated into trait or competence-based assessment processes, scorecards and thresholds.
 
Third, are we driving these factors through succession decisions and development centres? There is ample research around social and behavioural skills influencing succession and development centre decisions. Here are rather more proven relevant criteria to engage with. Enriching centres with equally relevant criteria to task and technical criteria will screen in more productive behaviours and clearly, returns.
 
Fourth, are we training and developing our upcoming talent to engage in teams this way, before they encounter their succession and development centres, so that we factor in these behaviours into talent promotion and succession decisions? Admittedly, this may make talent pipelines more discriminating and challenging; yet who would agree team success criteria are getting easier in our markets?
 
Many would be found wanting if we evaluated our teams. These behaviours and their integrating into our talent management are crucial.
 
Vernon Bryce is a consulting psychologist and partner of Kenexa EMEA.
 
This feature originally appeared on our sister site TrainingZone.co.uk.
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