Group hug and huddle

It’s late in the game. The stadium is packed and buzzing with anticipation and apprehension. The players on your team are crowding together and crouch as the final play is called. They’re tired but determined, and your heart seems to beat harder. And for a fleeting moment, you feel that nothing says unity more clearly or loudly than a team of people huddled in a circle, right?

We’ve now come to exhibit B in the quest for discovering the four dimensions of employee engagement, . Let’s study this large department with close to 600 employees working on information systems operations and maintenance. They’re all located in one campus.

When you look at the high-lights of their survey results, try to imagine how these employees interact and collaborate. Picture them in meetings and working together. What kind of organizational culture do they represent?

First I have selected the survey items where this group B reported higher favorable scores than average for the Group. Their best relative results are given in order of lead.

“I was given the opportunity to discuss my questions and ideas about the results of the last employee survey (+ 70 %).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager is an outstanding leader (+75 %).”
“I feel respected by members of my work group/team (+ 94 %).”
“My ideas and suggestions count (+ 79%).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager sets a good example for my work group/team (+ 79 %).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager treats me with respect and dignity (+ 90 %).”
“My work group/team is well managed (+ 77 %).”
“The people I work with cooperate to get the job done (+ 91 %).”
“There is good collaboration across different departments within my business entity (+ 65 %).”
“My business entity promotes activities and choices that improve employee health and well-being (+ 74 %).”
“My work group/team is free from conflicts that negatively impact our work (+ 71 %).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager has made a personal time investment in my growth and development (+ 67 %).”

What’s your first impression? Smiling faces and someone shouting “group hug and huddle”, right? They have a decent enough manager and people get along at work.

It’s almost too cozy and comfy. Have this team developed an organizational culture that is all about pandering to each employee? Are they possibly more focused on the social interaction inside the team instead of servicing their customers?

Let’s look into the survey items where this department reported the largest gaps compared to Group average. Here is where they are struggling:

“The leadership of my business entity has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me (+ 30 %).”
“I am satisfied with the physical environment at my business entity (+ 40 %).”
“I am satisfied with the way top leadership communicates in my business entity (+ 30 %).”
“I believe decisions are implemented quickly enough at my business entity (+ 21 %).”
“I have confidence in the leadership team to make the right decisions for my business entity (+ 37 %).”
“My business entity responds quickly to changes in the business environment (+ 43 %).”
“I have a good understanding of my business entity’s business direction and goals (+ 61 %).”
“I receive timely information relating to my work (+ 47 %).”

This is like watching a blitz from the defense unfold in agonizingly slow motion. It’s painful.

Here only one out of three employees agreed that senior leadership had communicated a vision for the future that is motivating for each individual. That is almost 30 % lower than the average.

I recently had the opportunity to meet more than 40 managers from this department in a face-to-face dialogue. When I shared my analysis and observations, it was an emotional roller coaster ride for them. I saw their happy smiles of recognition at great results in the team and immediate manager dimensions. I saw dejected faces marked by pain and sorrow when they stared at their lowest scores.

Their new leader got up and asked all the managers: “Do you recognize this? Is this an accurate assessment of where we have been?” They all nodded in agreement.

So, what do you believe happened here? What do you think caused this loss of confidence and trust in senior leadership?

How would you advice the new leader to build involvement and engagement, and restore some measure of confidence and trust? What would be the guiding principles she need to apply in order to lead this team out of this valley?

3 thoughts on “Group hug and huddle

  1. I’ve been reading this text several times and it is not so obvious to just give a recipe to a new leader. But what was stunning to me is that this group was demonstrating will of survival and well-being on their own. The most of energy was concentrated on safety problems. More energy invested in this kind of action could result in further closing from others and new discoveries.
    It was a very colourful example in beggining when you said about a “team” that is prepared to play. That could be connected with management rituals that “corporate” god’s will be on our side. On the other hand those rituals are costly, long, and doesn’t brings the wanted effects, which was reflected in bad scores.
    My advice would be that new leader need to build the team on strenghts but need to be sure that problems are understood. There are customers that like to synchronise processes to have better quality services. They like to score and give a feedback. New leader must recognise all levels of maturity in organisation and adress properly the vision. Rest will come with engagement of all in managing processes.

    • Group cohesion is rarely a problem in itself.

      The problem is when the inclusion creates a corresponding exclusion; a gradually declining interest in the rest of the organization, its’ customers and owners. At that point group cohesion generates suboptimization.

      Listening to the stake holders is the path out of this situation. That includes communicating customer needs and the strategic message with her managers and their subordinates.

  2. To me this is a vivid portrait of one of the key challenges every manager faces. The linking pin problem. Preaching the overall perspective, even when she does not approve of decisions that have been taken further up.
    A quick path to popularity is to build team cohesion at the expense of the overall perspective. In the long run that helps no one. This is a path the new manager is well adviced to stay clear of.

    True engagement cannot only be based on the local group. True engagement must include the corporate perspective. Communicating that perspective with the managers is going to be a large part of her job, but also to make sure that every one of her subordinate managers do the same.

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