IT leadership: 4 simple ways to boost team engagement

An engaged, motivated team is a productive team. Consider these strategies to ensure that your team members feel valued
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With remote work continuing into the foreseeable future, it’s more important than ever for managers to connect with their teams – not just their direct reports. Here are four simple ways to improve team dynamics, increase employee engagement, and ensure that your employees know their voices are heard.

1. Pay attention

It is important not to micromanage, but don’t shift so far in the opposite direction that employees don’t know who or where you are or what you do for them. Regular one-on-one meetings in which one employee has your undivided attention are a great way to make sure you have time with each direct report.

2. Hold skip-level meetings

One-on-ones with your direct reports are essential, but they might not be enough in a complex organization. In skip-level meetings, you “skip over” a manager to speak directly with an individual contributor. Skip-level meetings should be shorter (maybe 15 minutes) and less frequent than one-on-ones. During skip-level meetings, you can learn amazing things about the people on your team and discover multiple opportunities to help them serve your customers and develop their careers.

Skip-level meetings also help you organize your team to ensure that it includes diverse skillsets that complement each other within a business function. They also let you know where to turn to meet business needs as they arise.

[ Are you over-communicating and not engaging? Read our related story: Remote leadership: 9 ways your style may backfire. ]

Before initiating skip-level meetings, be sure to give your direct reports a heads up. If you establish skip levels without discussing them with your team leaders first, you risk damaging the trust you’ve worked to build with them.

One final note: Once you’re in the habit of holding skip-level meetings, be wary of “grandparenting.” This happens when the leader (grandparent) appears to favor the individual contributors (grandchildren) and taking their direct reports (children) for granted. Grandparenting can cause your direct reports to feel neglected, while those who report to them feel glad to work with such fun and positive leadership. If you find yourself wondering, “Why do most people love everything I do while the people right next to me are having a tough time?” you might be grandparenting.

3. Acknowledge and build relationships

Throughout your career, you will work with some “no news is good news” people as well as the opposite. Believe it or not, some people would rather hear you sincerely say, “Great job” or “Thank you” than receive a raise or stock options.

Believe it or not, some people would rather hear you sincerely say, "Great job" or "Thank you" than receive a raise or stock options.

As a leader, you should expect to spend time building relationships with each team member through one-on-ones and other interactions. Relationship-building will help you understand what kind of acknowledgment each individual responds to – and you must then be sure to offer it.

4. Provide authentic feedback

When providing positive feedback, always be authentic, whether your feedback is positive or constructive. If an outcome isn’t what you expected, let your team know – in a constructive way, of course.

Deliver feedback as soon after a situation or event as possible. Clearly point out the action or behavior in question and paint a picture of any resulting damage. This approach removes ambiguity and helps your team members make targeted improvements. A great time to provide feedback is during your one-on-ones.

The solution to team engagement

In summary, pay attention to your team’s responsibilities and developing skill sets in both one-on-ones with direct reports and skip-level meetings. Acknowledge their accomplishments in a way that is unique to them, and always provide authentic feedback.

This formula is the magic solution to team engagement – it doesn’t cost a dime, and it all starts by scheduling regular one-on-one talks with each team member. Remember that a leader is a multiplier. You can’t multiply your team’s impact if you don’t know what they are capable of – or if they don’t know or trust you enough to be moved by your efforts.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Currently senior product manager for SentryOne, Jason has worked in technology for over 20 years. He joined SentryOne in 2006 having held positions in network administration, database administration, and software engineering.

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