In his Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni outlines five common dysfunctions that cause teams to be ineffective. Having discussed the first two – absence of trust and fear of conflict – I’m now going to look at the third, lack of commitment.
This is something I’ve often seen people grapple with during coaching sessions, asking how to foster a stronger sense of commitment in their teams or companies. What it really comes down to is two things: clarity and buy-in. In other words, as a leader you need to make sure your goals are clear and your strategies for reaching them instil confidence.
Here are a few key dos and don’ts to help you achieve that.
DON’T: Assume everyone knows the company’s goals
What’s obvious to you as a leader may not be to everyone else. Ask yourself whether someone new to the company can figure out its mission from the outset. If the answer is no, you’re not being clear enough.
This applies to team-specific aims, too. If information isn’t cascaded properly, teams will be unsure of what they’re working towards. They may feel directionless or confused, having heard conflicting information from different sources, which can lead to decision paralysis and second-guessing.
DO: Share strategic information and goals clearly
Though it may seem obvious, it’s surprising how few organisations clearly convey their mission to their employees. Put it on the wall somewhere, add it to email signatures, display it at the start of presentations… You can do it however feels natural for your business, but you should definitely do it.
Ensuring teams understand their specific goals, as well as the company’s, fosters a sense of working towards a shared aim. Make sure there’s clarity about what each team is doing, and how it helps in the achievement of larger goals.
DON’T: Confuse presenteeism for engagement
Too many leaders assume that seeing everyone at their desks means they’re all engaged and working hard. But it’s often quite the opposite. As a 2019 FT report notes, “there’s so much emphasis on being seen, rather than your output … as a proxy for how committed you are to the organisation.”
People being physically present at work doesn’t mean they’re mentally present. In fact, feeling pressured to be in the office regardless of personal circumstances such as health issues can make employees feel alienated and underappreciated – certainly not committed.
DO: Be adaptable and compassionate
Many of the problems of presenteeism are solved with a robust flexible working policy. And not only is it more compassionate, but it makes the organisation more adaptable to shocks like the COVID-19 crisis. It makes sense that people at companies with well-established WFH policies feel more confident shifting fully to remote working as required; in turn, this helps increase clarity and buy-in when it comes to strategies for getting through the crisis.
The shift to a focus on output rather than simply presence in the office also helps to increase clarity, the other crucial ingredient to commitment.
DON’T: Assume perks are enough
The idea of start-ups having a ping-pong table in the office is a cliché by now, but it speaks to something important. Perks can be a valuable part of a company’s culture, adding fun and novelty and making people feel their workplace has something special. But they don’t really help with a lack of commitment.
Too many leaders think a one-time injection of cash will create stronger ties between employees and company, whether that’s in the form of fancy coffee machines, luxurious retreats – or even ping-pong tables.
DO: Give people real reasons to commit
Instead of just surface-level perks, give people meaningful evidence that you value them in the long term. Ask what you can offer that your employees actually need and want – that’s what will keep them with you through tough times.
These real reasons to commit might be benefits like a good pension plan or flexible working policy, which show that you value your employees’ wellbeing. But they can also be things like ethical commitments and charitable work, which demonstrate integrity and a focus beyond profit.
DON’T: Rely on the fear of failure
For founders especially, fear of failure can be powerfully motivating, as they’ve put so much time, effort and pride into creating something. But it may have the opposite effect if applied to others.
As Amy Edmondson explains in The Fearless Organization, psychological safety is necessary for people to feel fully committed to a company. This includes knowing that you can fail sometimes, and it’ll be okay. After all, trying anything new is a risk – but without it, innovation is impossible. If you want people to buy into your goals, you should encourage them to think of better ways to reach those goals, not make them feel terrified to try something new.
DO: Give positive feedback
When people show commitment, let them know that you see and appreciate it. Give specific and meaningful feedback to individuals and teams, and outline how their work helps in achieving both the team and the company’s goals.
This includes giving positive feedback when mistakes have been rectified, or when there’s been clear development in an individual or team. Some companies find it useful to formalise this, with team of the year awards or perks, but it can really be as simple as a personal end-of-year message or impromptu chat. Whatever form it takes, positive feedback can do a lot to strengthen commitment.