There are tons of thoughts, words, and evidence that indicates building and growing ever more engaged teams leads to higher productivity, greater resource capacity, and positive work environments.
With all that information and evidence, what keeps leaders from creating engagement cultures? Likely similar reasons why Americans are obese and sedentary when we can't turn around with a reference to refined sugar, corn, and chemicals being bad and exercise being good. Likely, there is something served inside the leader, inside the overweight, sedentary person that makes the current state comfortable.
Turning information into action requires something else: Permission.
Here's a basic truth regarding teams and whether they are engaged...or not. It's the leader who sets the tone, take the responsibility, and creates the space, environment, culture where engagement, risk-taking, innovation might happen. It's critical for you, as the leader to embrace this responsibility.
It's up to the leader, then, to give permission to stretch their performance, take risks, make decisions, and be responsible for their performance. The leader also needs to give themselves permission to allow the team to grow. The leader conveys this permission not only by what they say but also by how they live. The leader can do this in lots of ways. A few are:
- Facilitate discussion where the team identifies it's values and how they tie into the values and goals of the organization and the team's role in making it all happen.
- Praise the right things. Actively look for and praise every time the team acts in alignment with the team vision or goes above and beyond. Most people want to do a good job, most of the time and crave recognition for their good work. That said, it stands to reason that if the leader praises the work and effort that closely aligns with the vision, the team will do more of that kind of work and give that time of effort. The leader may have to reward small steps in the right direction as the team may need proof and be tentative. Leadership requires patience. Leaders must give themselves permission to be patient with the team as they test the waters.
- Be open to what's possible. Leaders who subscribe the, "My work done, my way," mode of leadership create uncreative, soulless teams. Leaders who set vision, allows the team to contribute to the vision, and have a major say in how the work gets done in achieving the vision grow teams of people enrolled into why the team exists, how it demonstrates value to the organization, as well as the tasks it performs. What kind of team do you want to create?
Here is where leaders shoot themselves in the foot and teams become cynical and underperforming. Often a leader's ego and their need to be right stops good ideas from the team from being implemented. Once the leader's words and actions are unaligned, the team will catch on and conform to the real if unstated rules.
Give yourself permission to be vulnerable, to know only some of the answers, and to celebrate the greatness of others. You will be rewarded with a powerhouse, highly engaged team that consistently performs at amazing levels.
Realizing this level of team work and dynamics begins and ends with the leader and the level of permission they give themselves and others.