Let me set the scene. 90 degrees. Loads of humidity. Not an ounce of shade on 100 yards of turf, encircled by a dark black track. Only four players on the Bears show up for a game against the #2 team, the Bengals. Oh…and they’re all 4 and 5-year-olds.
This was my view at McNich’s athletic field in Cincinnati on Sunday as my oldest son attended his final flag football game of the season. Little did I know that I was about to witness a classic case of DISENGAGEMENT and the effects it has on TEAM PERFORMANCE.
My son loves football…lives it, breathes it, says the words Who Dey more than any other term between September and January every year. He looks forward to his flag football game each week and always gives it his all.
This Sunday was different. A few of the players on his team were just not feelin’ it…for whatever reason (remember – they’re only 4 and 5-years-old). Ben’s smiles and excitement quickly turned to a pretty grim looking face. He was starting to let the heat of the day and the morale of the team get to him, and it was changing the type of player he decided to be on the field that day.
Your disengaged employees will bring down your team far easier and quicker than your greatest cheerleader can ever build them up.
It’s just human nature. It’s easier for us to gravitate toward negativity. We get sucked in. That disengaged mindset can even creep over into the minds, and ultimately behaviors, of some of your most engaged employees. And it doesn’t take long. Eventually, collective team performance suffers.
The Bears lost the game against the Bengals Sunday. But it doesn’t have to end that way.
I’ve written previously about how individuals can take ownership of their own engagement, and I’ve also written about what an organization can do to build an engaged workforce. There’s a third player in this mix though, and that’s the manager, or whoever is in that “team lead” role. It’s a shared responsibility amongst all three parties to build a culture of engagement in your workplace.
These tips are for that third party. What could you have done to turn that game around on Sunday and ensure a strong team performance in the end?
1. Identify the disengagement. Keep your eyes and ears open and know when someone on your team is disengaged. Acknowledgement is a critical first step.
2. Uncover the root cause. Identifying the disengagement only goes so far. It’s your job to understand what is causing it. You can do this through something as formal as an engagement survey or as informal as an open and transparent conversation. During this stage, make sure you seek to understand. Actively listen. Resist the temptation to jump to your own conclusions. The reason for the disengagement could span a large host of underlying causes, such as:
- Poor job/role fit
- A wavering trust in leadership
- The perception of having no growth at the company
- Not feeling recognized for their work
- Lack of understanding of how what they do every day aligns with what the organization is trying to achieve
3. Address the root cause. Now it’s time to act. Once you identify the root cause, collaboratively build action plans around it that everyone has bought into and can own. One cause of disengagement on the football field that day was the heat. In response, we poured ice cold water over the players’ heads. Please don’t pour ice cold water on your employees, but hopefully you get my point.
4. Measure and re-assess. As with anything, monitor progress. Have check points along the way, and initiate more of that open and transparent communication about the results you’re seeing, whether positive or negative. Alter the course of action if it’s not working.
Bottom line – when you see disengagement amongst your team, tackle it head on (no pun intended!). Don’t let it fester. Your team will thank you.
Need help working through the four steps listed above? Reach out, and I’d love to help you and your team through the process.
I am currently sponsoring a project with 10 team members in 6 global office locations, 5 divisions, and 4 time zones. Enough to make your head spin, right? I also just recently joined a newly formed Advisory Council for a non-profit. We held our first meeting last week, and it is an exciting time as we define our vision and goals for the group.
Both of these current projects have reminded me of a valuable lesson I learned from Duke University’s Coach Krzyzewski (“Coach K”) at this year’s Leadercast event. Whether you’re working with a team of 3, 10, 20, or more, all local or dispersed around the globe, it’s important for the team to answer this vital question in order to be successful:
How are we going to live?
It’s kind of like the rules of the road – pass in the left lane, stop at red, don’t text, so on and so forth. The same rules of thumb need to be identified by any team working collectively to achieve a common goal (project team, product team, department, committee, etc.).
Below are a few questions your team should ask itself early on to define your own “rules of the road”.
Why does your team exist and what specific objectives do you need to accomplish?
How will you communicate with each other? What tools will you use? Consider things such as frequency, times, and locations of meetings; online collaboration tools such as Google Docs and/or social platforms; email distributions, etc.
Roles and Responsibilities
What is each individual team member expected to contribute to the achievement of your objectives? Is there a team lead, project manager, facilitator, note taker, etc.? Do you have sub-teams charged to drive specific initiatives? Most importantly – who brings the coffee and bagels and who organizes the celebratory happy hours?
Boundaries and Levels of Authority
What decision making powers does each member of the team have? Who can approve expenses, and up to what amounts? What actions are team members empowered to take?
Relationships Outside of the Immediate Team
How will you work with other teams? Create Service Level Agreements where appropriate.
Standards/Code of Conduct
What behaviors does each team member expect from one another? Consider the following:
- Participation/attendance (maybe you even define required attendance levels)
- Sharing of duties – how flexible are your job roles? What is your overall philosophy toward helping each other out?
- Challenge one another, but in a respectful way
- Keep a positive attitude
One Final Note
When Coach K asked his U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic Team how they wanted to live, they responded by saying, “always be on time to practice and always give it your all during practice.” In his past seven years as a Team U.S.A. coach, he’s never had anyone show up late and has never had a bad practice. Why? Because this rule was theirs. They owned it. They defined it. Therefore, they live it.
I encourage you to answer these questions with your fellow team members and document a charter for how you’re going to live.