According to Gallup, 70% of US employees are not engaged in their job. This translates into $550 billion in lost productivity annually. 67% higher absenteeism, 72% fewer referrals, and 35 to 65% higher turnover (to name a few more stats).
So how did we get here?
Here’s the way I look at it. The “do more with less” and “be accessible 24/7” expectations have had a tremendous cost on workers health, time with family, and general wellbeing.
Much has been said about turning Gallup’s statistics around with a variety of strategies for driving greater engagement. But the problem is, disengaged workers are not as obvious to spot as one might think. They usually are not nodding off in meetings or gazing blankly into space. They are much more likely to be active employees, just not the highly collaborative ones.
The traditional formula for improving employee engagement usually relies on two inputs.
- What the company can bring to bear (environment, culture, and incentives/perks).
- Committed employees who are willing to provide discretionary effort.
I struggle with this approach, as it pivots solely around the individual. In my experience, I believe that we need to look at the individual in the context of the team that they operate within. Recently at Ceridian’s annual customer forum, INSIGHTS, I led a session where I proposed a new model where what matters most is
- The team.
- The approach/method used to get work done.
Traditional Teams vs. Agile Teams
Software Development firms 15 years ago started to adopt an approach which helps to resolve the engagement problem. Instead of building Traditional Teams, they built Agile Teams. This approach is discussed in detail in the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.
Here are three key benefits of Agile Teams:
- In the Traditional Team approach, a sole leader leads and workers execute/follow. In the Agile approach, there is no specific leader. The team is self-governed, often with a servant leader facilitator. The team is handed a task/challenge and must together figure out how to solve. In the Traditional Team approach, it’s usually one person’s point of view that governs team direction. In the Agile Team, it’s the diversity of ideas/opinions that help uncover better solutions.
- The reason why Agile Teams work so well, is the team self-polices by how they operate. They meet daily for maximum 15 minutes to align on yesterday’s accomplishments, today’s activities, and known blockers. This high level of visibility helps identify who may be struggling and who maybe falling behind. Further, it allows those team members who might otherwise be wallflowers to take center stage on aspects of the project that they’re the subject matter expert.
- Agile Teams are highly efficient. Together the team devises the solution, resulting in less chance of broken telephone (i.e. broken communications), which often plagues Traditional Teams where one team defines the solution and another executes the plan. That simple break can result in a lot of misinterpretation. With Agile Teams, it’s one continuous activity. The result has been that Agile Teams deliver projects at higher quality in shorter timeframes. An added benefit is on a personal level. Team members feel empowered in shaping the shared outcome.
In my opinion, simply working to get more “discretionary” effort from an individual just does not work. Do I want my direct reports working longer hours? No. Do I want my direct reports to not take time with their family/friends? No. I want my direct reports to show up as their best self – the highly creative, collaborative, positive/pleasant people that they are, so that they can deliver awesome results.
Making the move towards self-governing teams isn’t as hard as it may sound. The challenge most face when moving to an Agile Team is the ceremonies (Agile term: ceremonies are specific meeting types with a well understood purpose and planned outcome). The daily 15 min meeting is one such ceremony. I encourage you to try. Other aspects to keep in mind include expecting a level of accountability from all team members, encouraging open feedback/ideas sharing, bringing forward dependencies and constraints, and shifting who the owner of the project is. Remember, it’s no longer you, but the team.
In a world where change is constant, we need to move past/evolve our thinking beyond the two parties – employee and organization – and shift it to the Team, which touches the employee daily and continuously.