9 Steps to Creating and Fostering an Engaged Team and an Environment of Psychological Safety

The world is in great turmoil right now and this is no great secret. We can’t often control external forces, but we can control internal environments at our workplaces. We can control how we react and manage situations. We can control how we show up for our employees. We can control how we show up for our peers. We can control whether we micromanage our teams, allow them flexibility for time off, congratulate them on milestones in life and career, offer them opportunities, and whether we acknowledge that they may be struggling. The list goes on. Engagement of our team is primarily in the Leadership Domain and much within our control.

*“In a recent study of high-level senior leaders, Dale Carnegie found that 70% believe that [employees have] a strong impact on financial performance.........." "In a separate study of leaders at lower levels within their organization,…….22% reported that they believe their organizations are spending too much time and money trying to engage employees, and 26% say efforts to engage employees are a distraction from getting real work done, revealing a disillusioned group of leaders unlikely to embrace further initiatives." "Finally, too many organizations are simply paying lip service to the idea that engaging their employees matters. While Deloitte reported that 85% of company leaders say EE is an important strategic priority, Dale Carnegie’s research found that just 31% of front-line employees and managers strongly agreed that their organization is actually making engagement a top priority.”*

So what can you do today to engage your team and to start creating those safe spaces? Here are 9 tips to begin today (or tomorrow) if you’re not doing them already:

1. Be accepting of all people, thoughts, and ideas. Don’t be so quick to throw out ideas from team members. What’s the harm in letting them try? Consider whether you're treating the men on your team better than the women or offering up more opportunities to one group over another, because you’re focused on the typical Gender Norms/Gender Roles of society, operating from a place of Bias or lack of awareness or understanding. It happens. And you, too, may be doing it without realizing it. We see it all the time.

2. Be empathetic. Even if you’re not wired as an Empath, you can show that you care. You can ask if someone is doing ok. You can allow some extra flexibility if needed. You can say that you’re there for support. It’s not only the good leadership thing to do, but also the human and right thing to do.

3. Check in without an agenda. Your team needs to know you trust them. You create an environment of Psychological Safety when you trust them to do the job they were hired to do. You further this when you care enough to check in authentically about how things are going in their world both inside and outside of work. We're not implying to pry, but you should know enough about your team outside of what they do within it.

4. Sometimes, though, you may deliberately need to have or create an agenda. This is in the sense that people may sometimes need your time or energies focused toward the needs and struggles they have. In light of everything going on in the world, some people may not be ok. You can carve out space in the meeting for at least five minutes without jumping right in. Acknowledgment is huge! People can’t just shut off events happening in the news of disparate and unjust treatment of someone who looks like them, of weather or other emergencies, a lack of access to transportation, a loss in the family, or any other events that directly (or even indirectly) impact them. Please don't expect your employees to face these challenges and adversities and then come to work like nothing has happened.

5. Don’t assume it’s always going to cost money. Not everything is going to cost money. We advise that you certainly set a budget for the things that have been assigned high priority within the organization, because what gets measured gets done and what gets budgeted gets assigned priority and done. As with the rest of life, a simple “Please”, “Thank you”, “How can I support you?” go a long way. Showing support, not cancelling one-to-ones, and providing purpose and meaning in work are all free and go a long way toward engagement.

6. Integrity always. If you say you are going to do something (such as being there for support), do it. Employees don’t forget these things because they matter. Large or small, they matter. If they’re asking or if you’ve said it, it all matters in the engagement and culture. If you fall back on it without follow-up (including Engagement Surveys and Action Planning), unfortunately they probably won't let you forget it.

7. Don’t feel like you have to know it all. Show off a bit of vulnerability- Contrary to popular belief, employees don’t expect you to know it all and vulnerability is not weakness. It’s a human quality and it's ok to say you don’t know and to get back to them. In fact, they’ll appreciate you more for showing a bit of vulnerability than pretending to know something or coming off as disingenuous.

8. Slow down! The world wasn’t built in a day, so why is it that so often (too often) projects and timelines and people get rushed so much? Does better work get done when people are rushed? Does engagement go up? Does productivity rise? Not in our experience. In our experience these things can tank your employee engagement, create less excitement in work that could’ve otherwise been exciting, and make your team feel as though you’re fine with burning them out at the expense of things getting finished- or for the sake of looking good to your own boss. Hey- we keep it real around here at CEPHR. Sugarcoating it does you no favors. Most of the time, with proper planning, there shouldn’t be such a need to rush that much anyway. SO…..ARE you planning? Failure to plan on your part shouldn’t constitute those emergency fires on your team’s. We see this way too often and guess how THAT’S going to impact your engagement?

9. Shake up the Status Quo. We don’t often make ground-breaking products, trends, or do our best or most exciting work when we do what we’ve always done. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit and to pull your team into the visioning of that. A couple of our clients are doing amazing things in this space and have seen their team engagement rise! And it's no surprise that they're growing rapidly too!

*Source reference for Dale Carnegie Study: https://www.dalecarnegie.com/en/resources/employee-engagement-making-engagement-a-daily-priority-for-leaders