Improving team engagement is a constant challenge for leaders, whether people are working together in the office or remotely. Many teams can suffer from “domination by a few” where multiple people control every meeting and shape the direction of the team.
Getting quieter team members to contribute and participate is a challenge for in-person teams and presents additional hurdles that must be overcome for those working in hybrid environments.
Vivek Nigam, president and CEO of BeRemote – a tech startup that helps companies increase team productivity and engagement – has spent much of his career managing people through challenges impacting the team participation.
Vivek shared with me some strategies for being more collaborative, boosting participation, and increasing trust – all necessary for successful teams.
1. Build psychological safety
The team environment should be a safe zone where each member feels empowered to speak and contribute. Clinical studies discuss psychological safety as a critical factor in overcoming barriers that inhibit participation. Vivek shared a few ways leaders can build psychological safety, including:
- Actively solicit questions
- Provide multiple ways for employees to share their thoughts
- Encourage dialogue and discussion on feedback
- learn from each other
- Protect team information
Employees need to understand that information coming out of the team is done in a very controlled way. In traditional in-person teams, people rely on each other’s behaviors and trust to manage the flow of communication. In a hybrid world, the use of tools makes it possible to circulate this information very freely and quickly. So, as Vivek shared, it’s “important to have mechanisms in place to ensure that the team itself has some privacy and protection for the conversations that are taking place. This helps promote a space safe to contribute”.
2. Build Trust
Stability is a key factor in establishing and maintaining trust and security. According to Vivek, “it takes time for people to get used to each other, to get to know each other and to like each other”. Changes to the team should be done carefully and managed in detail.
In a hybrid world, maintaining confidentiality is crucial for an engaged team. People need to feel that they can be trusted and, in turn, that they can trust others.
As Vivek learned, showing appreciation is important for building trust. He says, “Recognizing an individual with a simple thank you has a powerful positive impact on improving participation. More importantly, it must be authentic.
3. Create tasks that require participation
An often overlooked tactic for improving team participation is to create a task that requires the entire team to participate. Most managers are trained to host an event or off-site with planned activities. These certainly help but tend to be short lived in their effectiveness.
Managers need to find a way to do a “team” task each week. True to its mission, Vivek shared, “We want team members to get into the habit of helping each other get things done.”
Teams can have tasks that combine participation factors. For example, create a photo collection by asking each team member for a photo of the last place they went on vacation or their favorite food or other “get to know each other” topic. But don’t post the photo collection until everyone has participated. The first try will take a few reminders, but with repetition it will get easier. And the effect on each individual’s desire to participate is positive and powerful. These are tasks that should be done at least once a week.
Each manager should experiment with specific mechanisms to improve overall team participation. There are many activities that will support the cause and the desired results. Remembering to protect team information, finding methods to build trust, and continuing to conduct activities that encourage or even mandate contribution will create a solid foundation for improving team participation.