The 5 building blocks of engaged, high-performing teams
Updated: Feb 11
Originally published in Business Insider Jan 17, 2020
Happy, engaged teams do better work, are more collaborative and innovative, have lower attrition and higher loyalty, and deliver up to 50% better performance than less engaged teams, according to studies from Gallup and Deloitte, among others.
One could say this is only common sense: People who are happy and enjoy what they do put greater energy into their jobs than those who just show up for the paycheck. Yet many business leaders seem to be reluctant to entertain these thoughts, maybe because they know that means they will have to start doing things differently. "Making employees happy" is usually not considered a top priority for most leaders, and even those who understand the importance of it seem to struggle with how to do it in practice.
Seven years ago, I founded Corporate Spring with the mission to make the corporate world a happier place. We educate, advise, and support leaders and executives in how to create thriving teams and build highly engaged work cultures. Over the years, my team and I have come to realize that lack of knowledge and experience is what is holding many leaders back from doing what's obviously good for their business. Creating better work cultures not only makes their employees happier — it ultimately makes their shareholders a whole lot happier, too.
Not everyone thinks happiness at work is possible though. Some call the kind of cultures we promote "utopia." People enjoying coming to work in the morning? Feeling passionate about what they are doing? Having successful careers and a great life outside work as well?
Yes indeed. This is all very possible. However, having worked with a variety of companies in the US and Scandinavia for the last 20 years, I've noticed that these kinds of cultures are more common in my native Scandinavia than what I've experienced in the US, and I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
Employee rights are very protected in Scandinavia, and governmental support for healthy work life and economic safety is extensive. The lower levels of job and social security in the US impacts levels of trust and employee happiness, according to OECD Better Life Index. This puts greater pressure on American leaders and companies to provide the kind of psychological safety people need to be able to give their best at work.
The importance of work-life balance is regarded much more highly in Scandinavia (where we have the attitude of "working to live") than in America (where employees seem to feel pressured to "live to work"). In Scandinavia, 25 to 30 days of annual paid leave is the norm — and most people take them, compared to the much fewer days which many don't even use in the US.
Scandinavian leadership tradition is quite humanistic, informal, and less authoritarian than what we see in many American companies. In Scandinavia, equality and social democratic values are high — including in the workplace — and leaders who don't treat people kindly and fairly struggle to earn the respect of their employees.
Professor Vlatka Hlupic, author of the book "The Management Shift," writes that more humane leadership styles based on collaboration and inspiration, where trust and respect permeates the organization and people can be themselves at work, is needed to be effective and succeed in today's fast-moving, ever-changing business landscape.
Sadly, the majority of the workforce does not feel this way. According to Gallup, 85% of the global workforce are not engaged, or actively disengaged in their jobs, with an economic consequence of approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.
But it really doesn't need to be this way. Creating engaged team cultures is not as difficult as many think. It actually starts with engaging people: talking, involving, and listening to what they say. After all, engagement is an emotion and not something that can be achieved through "engagement strategies" and spreadsheets alone. When leaders show that they care, speak to people's minds and hearts, treat people as humans with kindness and respect, and encourage their employees lives outside work, they will get far.
If they also make the investment of bringing their teams together for a day or two, having open and honest conversations about some of the things that impact engagement and performance the most, they will most probably experience a significant boost in employee morale. The five building blocks of high-performing team cultures is a science-based, simple — yet very effective — model used to guide these discussions. We've tested it on hundreds of leaders and teams around the world and have again and again seen the formidable effects these kinds of discussions have on both employee engagement and business performance.
What is your team's shared purpose — your aspirations, goals, and reason to exist (hint: It's not only about the numbers)? Align around something that makes everyone's jobs feel meaningful and inspires them to come to work in the morning.
What are your shared values and mindsets, what kind of behaviors would you all like to see, and what kind of actions support your purpose? What makes your team unique? How do you all belong together?
Does everyone feel they can show up as themselves at work, do they trust each other, do they feel trusted? If something happens, will you have each others' backs? What does psychological safety look like, and how can you create such an environment together?
4. Growth mindsets
How do you respond to challenges? Are you looking for problems or solutions? Do you aspire to grow or prefer to stay the same? How do you react to change? Discuss the power of mindsets and how they can be learned, practiced, and possibly changed.
5. Passion and joy
What do you enjoy the most, and what makes people's eyes shine? What unleashes the team's collective energy? How can you inspire and support each other to create the kind of environment that people look forward to coming to in the morning?
The ROI for doing this kind of work is staggering: Highly engaged teams are 57% more effective, have employees that are 87% less likely to leave, and have 2.3 times higher revenue growth than less engaged teams.
Investing in people and culture always pays off, whether it's about making incremental changes or doing a full-blown culture change.
And that, I believe we all can agree on, is desperately needed.