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Reenergising a Depleted Team: 6 Conditions

Many of my clients have been noticing the same thing, “Everyone on my team seems tired…all the time. It seems like they’re in a fog, and I don’t know what to do.”

The last two years of volatility, increased employee turnover, supply chain disruptions, and changing workforce expectations about flexibility are culminating in a human energy crisis, according to Kathleen Hogan of Microsoft.  The Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index is a study of 31,000 people in 31 countries, along with an analysis of trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 and labour trends on LinkedIn. The recent report found that a higher proportion of staff are calculating a new “worth it” equation, with 53% of respondents, particularly parents and women, choosing to prioritise their health and well-being over work.

In this context, wellbeing and engagement are critical to sustained organisational performance, especially when balanced with a continual focus on productivity and effectiveness, particularly if we intervene at the team level. So how do you re-energise a team, and/ or design teams for both engagement and productivity?

There are six actions that team leaders can take to lift engagement and reset the team with a focus on achieving success together, improving what they do over time and contributing to each other’s learning.  Let’s first start with how we measure the outcomes of the team before going to its design specifications.

Measuring Team Effectiveness

Team members thrive when they are achieving great results, and when the team is becoming more capable over time, increasing their speed and their flow over time. If a team burns itself out in a performance cycle to accomplish something, that’s not as sustainable as a team that can learn from that cycle and become more capable in the next cycle. Team members experience high job satisfaction when they contribute to team members’ growth and development, along with the experience of being involved in the team and its outcomes.

Research shows that drivers of engagement include job satisfaction, being valued and involved in decision making, and the extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas, and have managers listen to these views.

Many organisations measure staff engagement. Whilst highly correlated to team effectiveness and performance, engagement is a symptom of the underlying design conditions of the team rather than the root cause. Many organisations fail to address poor engagement results, because underlying root causes are neither measured or addressed.

Re-energising the Team around 6 Conditions

Re-energised teams are teams that are reset or re-launched. This can be done in the way of a Team Workshop or session that signals to team members that there they will contribute to creating a new way of relating to each other, the work and their stakeholders. A workshop is designed to address one or more of the 6 conditions of effective teams, and importantly team members are involved in designing the new conditions every step of the way.

1. Refocus on the inter-connections between team members

The team can ask themself what is the business need or requirement that the team fulfills. Is there something that stakeholders need accomplished, that can’t be done, or done better, by working separately. It requires a certain level of interdependent work, and acknowledgement of the interdependencies between team members’ tasks.

2. Re-Develop a Compelling Purpose for the Team

What is the team’s reason for existing and how does this team contribute to the organisation’s business need for the team? A compelling purpose is what gets employees out of bed in the morning, and that is a powerful driver when the purpose is shared, clear, challenging and consequential.

 The team can agree on their purpose with the kind of granularity that helps them understand where they should channel their energy, and importantly where they shouldn’t channel their energy. The team purpose is critical because it creates the partnership or collaboration between otherwise independent individuals.

3. Leverage the diverse strengths of team members

Any great team needs to include the right people capable of accomplishing the work. Oftentimes the team does have incredible diversity in skills, expertise and perspectives but they aren’t leverage their collective strengths. This can leave some team members feeling unheard and under-utilised and can also lead to group think and adverse effects on team effectiveness.

Teams can be encouraged to map their diversity and partly, this requires getting to know each other better, which then has a positive effect on team connection and engagement.

4. Relaunch norms with teeth

Strong team culture requires getting on the same page about what behaviors and mindsets team members will apply to relating to each other; how they will relate to the work; and how they will face out to stakeholders in a unified way. 

 Norms are easier to create when the team is thinking about the work, so this design feature starts with the team agreeing on their ‘must wins’; mission critical tasks or major goals, and defining what they must do or must not do to achieve those goals. Norms developed in the absence of goals are often too broad and intangible, like “trust each other” for example. When connected to a goal, that same norm can be expressed in a series of statements about how the team will keep each other accountable and therefore trust each other to deliver.

5. Reignite a supportive context for the team

Teams don’t exist in a vacuum. The team can re-energise themselves around whether they are getting the support they need in terms of resources, information, and recognition and reward from the organisation they’re a part of. If the team feels unsupported by the wider organisation this can be a driver of disengagement for individual members, particularly if they feel their efforts are being overlooked by the wider organisation. Together they can ask how they can influence their environment to ensure they are receiving the appropriate support? In the public sector this might be about political nous, and in the private sector this may be about understanding various forms of influence the team can leverage. A team that has a strong reputation, and is perceived as effective, is likely to be placing their efforts on areas they can control and influence.

6. Recast the role of peer-to-peer coaching

Because an important aspect of team effectiveness is whether team members feel they are contributing to the learning of the team, recasting the key role of peer-to-peer coaching can reenergise individuals as well as the team as a whole.

Research shows that when teams are poorly designed under these other five conditions, team coaching doesn’t make much of an impact.  I see a lot of coaches struggling with their coaching impact because of this. However, once the team has been reset to the other five conditions, coaching reinforces the changes made, and increases the team’s capability to track their own progress and make course correctios along the way. Peer to peer coaching requires that team members have a personal stake in each other’s success because they understand the inter-dependencies between their respective tasks and are motivated to achieve their team purpose together.

Psychological Safety emerging from 6 conditions

Kurt Lewin, the famous social psychologist, stated that human behavior is a function of the person and the environment, or the person’s interaction with their environment. We can intervene in human behavior by either focusing on the individual or the context that shapes their behavior. This approach can be applied to emergent processes like engagement and psychological safety.

Psychological safety is about how comfortable team members feel to be uncomfortable, for example, to take a risk, be vulnerable, and speak up offering a competing viewpoint to the team. Professor Amy Edmundson, who coined the term in her early psychological research, writes about the team’s context and leadership enabling the environment for psychological safety. However, leadership in the context of poor team design will fail to create a safe environment. For example, if a team is not clear on their purpose, and are unaware of the inter-dependencies between their tasks, and if they’re not getting support from the wider organisation, and they haven’t agreed on the behavioral norms of the team, all those structural conditions will create an environment that will lead to a lack of safety. Therefore, a better focus of our efforts as leaders is on the team’s conditions, so that we can create an ecosystem that gives rise to those behaviors.

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