Increase Team Engagement and Productivity by Slowing Down!

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2021 | Leadership, Team Performance

Linda Bodnar, Ph.D., PCC. One of the questions on the minds of leaders these days is how to engage with their team(s) in this virtual world. Another is how to plow through the seemingly endless and overwhelming amount of work and meetings. Sometimes these two challenges are at odds, since it feels like taking time to engage with the team will be a further drag on getting everything done, even though we know that keeping our team engaged is one of the key factors in getting results.  “What to do, what to do, what to do?” may be running through your mind!

One solution (in addition to the critical tactic of prioritizing and identifying the top two or three goals that will serve as your and the team’s North Stars) may be to slow down to go fast. So very hard to do, but so important. Even years ago, Abraham Lincoln realized the wisdom in this: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”   

You might ask how this relates to engaging with your team… There are two strategies I’d like to suggest that will give you an opportunity to engage your team virtually while also allowing you and your team to slow down to go fast.  

After-Action Reviews

One that has been shown to positively impact a team’s performance is the after-action review (AAR), sometimes called a post-mortem. First created by the Army, this is a technique designed to look back after completing a project or accomplishment to identify what went well, what went not so well, and what to do differently in the future. Here is a process you could follow:

  • What were our results – what results did we intend and what were our actual results?
  • What were the gaps/issues – where were our actual results different from our intended results?
  • What caused those gaps/issues?
  • What are our lessons learned – what should we keep doing, start doing, stop doing, change what we are doing?
  • What are our next steps – what follow-up or revisiting do we need to do?

Some key success factors to take full advantage of this approach are:

  • Setting the stage effectively so that the goal is clear — learning from experience rather than pointing fingers; encouraging non-defensiveness and assuming positive intent
  • Having follow-up questions to pull out root causes, defining moments, etc.
  • Identifying the right facilitator – which could be you, although that may detract from you being able to be a full participant in the process, or you could identify a trusted partner to facilitate (e.g., HRBP, peer, stakeholder, your boss, external resource, etc.)
  • Making sure to have the right people in the room, to get the full perspective – which might include inviting stakeholders, in addition to just your team

Before-Action Reviews

It can also feel impossible to spend enough time looking forward. Traditional project planning, yes, but to really slow down to go fast, you might want to consider spending some time doing a before-action review (BAR), also sometimes called a pre-mortem. Somewhat parallel to the AAR, here are four common questions used in this kind of technique:

  • What are our intended results and measures?
  • What challenges can we anticipate?
  • What have we or others learned from similar situations?
  • What will make us successful?

Another approach for a BAR is to have the group imagine two years into the future and:

  • Assume that the project was the best success ever (e.g., completed under budget and time, seen as a real innovation, adopted by other groups, highlighted by the senior leaders, promotions for all on the team) and ask: “What did we do that created this success?”
  • Assume that the project has failed miserably (e.g., went way over budget and time, created chaos in the organization, resulted in the team being dismantled, etc.) and ask: “What did we do to get here?”   

You could use the same structure/process/questions that are outlined above for AARs for these two future-looks.  Some leaders will set up two groups, one to consider each scenario, and then get the two groups together to share notes and identify a plan forward.  Adding in diverse opinions can help bring in best practices and lessons learned from different perspectives/backgrounds.

It’s so easy to get caught up in BAU (business as usual) that it can feel impossible to pause to reflect.  Think about what value an AAR and/or a BAR could provide – both from a team engagement and a slow down to go fast perspective — and see if they make sense for you and your team(s).

For more about team engagement, developing high performing teams, and improving your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Linda.

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