How to Increase Work Team Engagement

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Do you know how to increase work team engagement levels?

When I first entered the world of work more than 40 years ago, employee involvement was becoming the rage. Now, organizations realize that both effective individual and work team engagement are critical to achieve true, sustainable operational excellence levels. Unfortunately, many don’t know how to increase work team engagement. Here are some engagement ideas that work for me.

First, people are the foundation of organizational success. ALSO, engagement reflects a degree of connection that goes beyond ‘mere’ involvement. However, true, meaningful engagement is not easy to come by. This is especially true if your prevailing work culture actually encourages employee disengagement. The phrase ‘I am only going to do what they tell me to, and nothing more’ comes to mind.

To measure true work team engagement, first look at the degree of connection between each staff member. For example, look at the percentage of your workforce that you involve in key decisions, plan development, and problem solving. How many staff participate in personal development events, customer contacts, and team-based work? The ‘percent involvement’ metric provides one way to gauge staff engagement levels. Percentage comparisons help highlight possible engagement gaps.

EXPLORE MORE: How Great are Your Work Systems?

Why do I need to know how to increase work team engagement?

Unfortunately, most organizations only engage a small percentage of their work team members in activities outside of their daily work area. Do your own self-check. Look at how your people, at all levels, spend their time at work. What different mixes of people could you involve in your ‘traditionally’ middle and upper management work processes?

I use the gear analogy to help define ‘engagement.’ This example helps make the need for high engagement percentages obvious. The theory is that there is a direct correlation between engagement levels and organizational success. As engagement levels rise across a variety of activity types, the number of gear teeth and gears that mesh goes up. In turn, the organizational machine moves to a higher level of performance. Greater engagement and stronger relationships create greater levels of understanding and ownership.

Do your people understand what their customers want, and why they want those things? If so, they are more apt to make decisions and take actions that are consistent with those needs. What percent of your people have a sound understanding of what the organization wants to accomplish? What percentage can describe how organizational success affects their own personal success and growth? Highly engaged staff are more likely to consistently behave and act in a manner that supports the mission and vision of the organization. Disengaged people only work to support their own personal needs or to keep their boss happy.

LEARN MORE: Do You Have Great Engagement and Compensation Systems?

What is work team or workforce engagement?

I base my definition of team engagement on my personal experience with teams and on the criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige National Performance Excellence Award.  The Baldrige criteria define workforce engagement as ‘the extent to which workforce commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Work team engagement is a heightened level of ownership, where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.’

For people to be engaged, the time and mechanisms for involvement must exist. They must believe that their personal contributions matter. Also, they need to be keenly aware of the connection that exists between their daily personal actions and decisions, and the success of the organization. Engagement implies the existence of strong, meaningful relationships.

To sustain organizational success, all staff must create effective relationships between customers and team members. Think of your teams like a set of gears. If each gear tooth (each person), as well as each gear itself (each work team), are not properly and consistently engaged, some degree of mechanical efficiency will be lost. How do you effectively engage your staff and work teams?

DISCOVER MORE: A Matter of Job Ownership

How do I engage more of my people the pursuit of organizational goals?

To increase engagement levels, you need to pursue two key engagement ideas. First, you must change job designs and job descriptions. In other words, people need to spend their time at work a little bit differently each day. Provide different direction to work.

How much time is required to attend a monthly performance review meeting or to participate in an annual improvement or planning day? It does not take that big of a dent out of the 2,000 hours a year the average person spends at work to attend 2-3 hours of training or group problem solving a month. The use of these example engagement ideas alone results in only a 3% impact on time. Properly design and facilitate these events, and the benefits you realize from these investments will far outweigh the costs.

The second change to make is perhaps the tougher of the two. Fortunately, the related costs are very low. You must decide how to involve all levels of your workforce in activities that traditionally were reserved for members of management.

What do leaders not engage a higher percentage of their staff in activities like planning and process improvement?

Sadly, in many organizations, even the middle and front line leaders are not involved in planning and personal development as they should be. Upper organizational leadership is often afraid to share what is thought to be sensitive information. Often, they don’t trust their people. Unfortunately, without trust, engagement will not occur. At the same time, it is tough to improve trust levels without developing the stronger relationships that are part of true engagement. It is a vicious, systemic circle that spins in either the positive (growth) or negative (erosion) direction.

In those cases where trust (solid, positive relationships) do exist, job designs may not provide enough time ‘away from the process’ for such engagement. For example, low work team skill levels may require a work team leader to spend most of their time with the process work team. In turn, little work time exists for project meetings or personal development activities.

LEARN MORE: What is a Work Team? – Key Characteristics

How can I measure my current level of work team engagement?

There are three primary ways to measure engagement levels. These methods are employee surveys, personal time investment analysis, and information access analysis. The survey measurement approach can be as simple as asking a question on the annual employee opinion survey. High performance organizations, at minimum, ask multiple questions of an engagement nature. They want to gauge the effectiveness of each of the approaches they use to engage the workforce. Organizations that give each employee an e-mail address and some form of intranet access discover that such connectivity allows for more frequent, and specialized, assessment as well.

Perform a fact-based analysis of how your people spend their 2,000 hours a year. This is an effective means to measure engagement levels. For example, what percentage of your people spend time on training each year? What percentage of each person’s work time is spent attending monthly performance updates or annual planning sessions? How many hours a year does the average employee spend with at least one external customer? Also, you can use percentages to measure engagement. What percent of people in your workforce have access to performance information or receive monthly performance updates? What percent participates in some type of regular team meeting? Use of a team infrastructure blueprint gives you a quick look at your work team engagement levels.

EXPLORE MORE: Do You Have Great Teams?

How can Great Systems help me learn how to increase my work team engagement levels?

Great Systems helps you assess your current team engagement levels and develop a plan to increase those levels over time. Plus, I help you design and install more effective work systems to help increase engagement levels. Common processes include workplace health surveys, recognition programs, and team infrastructure design. Regularly, I work with others to help them learn more about, and practice, team facilitation skills. Such skills are needed to effectively lead and facilitate team meetings. Also, their use helps build stronger relationships between internal and external customers. Do your leaders know how to increase work team engagement levels?

High levels of team engagement are requisite to sustain best-in-class performance levels. This fact only becomes more important as our workforces become more diverse, and as customer expectations continue to shift and grow. I invite you to learn to do what the high performers already know is effective. Change your work systems to increase work team engagement. If you do so, gains in performance will follow.

LEARN MORE: Facilitating and Leading Teams – Keys to Team Effectiveness workbook

What is the most “critical factor” to increase work team engagement levels?

Outside of the information access and job design change decisions that upper managers must make, the most critical factor that can help or hinder engagement levels lies in the abilities of EACH of your process owners to promote and increase team engagement levels. In particular, work team leader performance in this area is most critical. A high majority of your people get daily information about what the organization wants to accomplish from these people, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Work team leaders are key if you want to develop stronger internal customer relationships. Plus, these people decide how much effort will be made to ‘free people up’ for training and team participation. Finally, work team leaders are the people we expect to effectively lead most of the work events the bulk of the workforce attends.

Do you want to develop effective engagement skills in each of your leaders? If so, you must teach them to use effective facilitation skills. Also, effective work team leaders regularly engage their people in a formal manner. These expectations should be part of their job description. As time passes, expect your leaders to increase their skill proficiency in these areas. Too many organizations fail to ensure, let alone improve, the skills of their leaders in these key areas. For true work team engagement to both exist and improve over time, all work team leaders must personally, and effectively, engage their people.

DISCOVER MORE: How to Measure Employee Ownership

What is the link between compensation practices and work team engagement levels?

In my work life, I have learned that money is much more of a demotivator than it is a motivator. In other words, I don’t think money is the primary, or even the secondary, reason why people do things that one expects of them at work. Instead, I strongly believe that people will quickly lose motivation if they think a compensation system is not fair. That said, one mechanism to increase engagement levels lies in the structure of your compensation work system.

What types of compensation differences exist between company levels? Who gets the perks and who doesn’t? What perceptions exist relative to what has to be done in order to become a ‘have’ versus a ‘have not’? What types of pay rate, benefit, work environment, and recognition differences exist across the organization? Why do they exist? How do these differences affect team engagement levels?

High performance organizations use compensation work system best practices to help drive up team engagement levels. One of the key practices involves extending some form of profit share to all employees, not just those at the top. Similarly, formal recognition for team success exists for all work teams.

Fairness matters most relative to compensation work system design impact on engagement levels

Most importantly, you should strive to design a fair compensation system. Appropriately recognize each employee for the contributions they make to organizational success. Don’t base recognition simply on one’s job title. Unfair, or poorly deployed, compensation systems drive down engagement levels.

The “What’s in it for me?” question is very pervasive and powerful. Plus, it focuses on much more than pay. Be sure to look at other forms of compensation. Examples far too many companies ignore include the work environment, formal recognition opportunities, and benefits.

Do you want to learn how to increase your work team engagement levels?

Do you have other work team engagement questions? If so, please send me an email at kevin@greatsystems.com. Keep improving!

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

www.greatsystems.com            kevin@greatsystems.com

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