A disengaged employee or team member places many stumbling blocks for the team and the organization. First, they harm themselves. They have settled for less than their given talents and potential. They become numb. They lose creativity and trade it in for “I do as I am told” mentality. Second, they can block others and make it harder for others to be engaged. It takes five to ten positive comments to overcome one negative comment. In the same fashion, a disengage employee will require some multiplier of motivated and engaged employees to overcome the one disengaged employee. This pattern is even worse when you consider teams or organizations that become disengaged.
Move From Do As Your Told To Unleashed CreativitySo providing professional growth creates an environment of engagement. People tap into their gifts and talents. They release passion and energies that cannot be forced or managed out. It happens when people care, trust is high and people feel supported.
As a leader, I have heard the question many times: what do you want me to do? I wish it was that easy and I wish I was that informed and that smart. I know that if you do what I want, I will get a dim version of what is in my head. I will lose the creativity of others and the opportunity to learn from them. The better question would be what do you want to do and how can you help with our mission. People need to own their own growth. We as leaders need to create space and support for them to grow.
Creating space for experiments with tough love feedback provide great opportunities for people to grow. In one of my assignments, I had a person that differed on me on how to structure a team and integrate some contractor resources. I felt strongly on my position and knew I was right. I had the choice to force my will or allow the controlled experiment. I worked with the person and we agreed on the needed outcomes for the teams. We also worked through the risks and concerns. With that, this growing leader was on his way. It was so not done the way I would do it and it was very successful. We both win. The business gets strong delivery, the leader has grown in experience and confidence, and I have become more humble. In the case when it does not go as well, the item of controlled experiment comes into play. I never put people in a place that a failure would cause them long term harm. I must be willing to own the risk. The “failures” become teachable moments and can provide equal or greater professional growth than the successes.
In the agile world, the concepts of broadening the T’s, retrospectives and self managed teams all support and encourage professional growth and engagement. As agile leaders, we must build and protect the environment to support the agile principles.
Team Turn AroundI worked with a team demoralized by politics, unrealistic demands, technical debt and general tone of you suck. The team had a deliverable due in a week. The team was behind and the quality was low. I asked the team if we would make it. One person spoke up. This alone was amazing. The team mostly looked at the floor and waited for the “beating” to be over. The person said we will make the date. We have to. I then asked will it work and be good quality. The answer was a definitive no. I then asked when we could have a good release. I will tell the customer we will be late. I just need to tell them when we will deliver. The team did not know how to respond. We have never been asked that. When can you have a plan pulled together? The team thought for a moment and said can we tell you in the morning? I said sure. What if we do not make our final plan, the team asked? How are we doing so far on delivery with quality? Not so good. Then we have room to get better, so make it happen and let me know what you need.
The team began to turn around. People owned problems, asked for help, took on challenges, and people smiled in meetings. It was still crazy, less political, still had technical debt, but the people were allowed to own and grow. It takes courage to start. It becomes contagious and is fun to be a part of. The irony is that it provided professional growth for me and I too was more engaged.
Here are some ideas that could help with professional growth.
- Introduce agile and self managed teams.
- Allow people to shadow or swap roles with another
- When approached with a problem ask for some solution choices and help or let the person run with making it happen.
- Create space in your plans for some controlled experiments. Time between releases is a good time for this.
- Provide honest feedback to people. Tough love.
- Look to remove toxic thinking and if needed the people behind it.
- Meet one on one with your team members and find out about their goals and desires. Look for places to get them started. Ask them where they think they could get started.
- Be truthful and what you will and will not do. False promises are worse than doing nothing. Apologize when you make mistakes and work to make it right.
- Define and own the problem
- Follow your work to your customer(s)
- Practice continuous improvement
- Provide professional growth
- Build and practice teamwork
- Provide accountability