4 Easy Engagement Steps that Drive Results

Our project team is at the quarterly meeting, watching as another Lean Six Sigma project team is recognized for the outstanding results of their improvement and lauded for their superior teamwork. Looking on in wonder and amazement, we just cannot understand why this team was so successful. They completed their project ahead of schedule, under budget and with a higher Return on Investment (ROI) than what was predicted.

Then, we look at our own team, which is composed of some of the strongest individuals in our organization. Yet our project is behind schedule, over budget and chances are that the project will be cancelled in the near future. Our leadership ability and technical skills are being called into question.

What has gone wrong?

Whether it’s a sports team, or a special events or project teams, chances are that you have experienced something similar at least at some point in your life. You’re part of a team of people at the top of their game and yet the team fails to live up to the sum of its individual components.

There is inevitably finger pointing as blame is passed from team member to team member. This reduces engagement and morale even lower. As the belt leading the project, you might even be tempted to blame your project sponsor for assigning the "wrong" people to your project.

The question we should be asking is not "who’s fault is this?" but rather "what could I have done differently to improve the team’s performance and the outcome of our project?"

Focusing on employee engagement is one potential answer. The idea is that getting people to be enthusiastic about their work – i.e. "engaged" - will make them more effective and productive. It’s not a new concept, but when you are leading a project team, employee engagement requires a new level of intense focus - from you, from the team and from the organization as a whole because unengaged teams are much more likely to be plagued by performance problems.

That’s why as a Green Belt, Black Belt, or Master Black Belt, developing the skills that improve employee engagement is an important component of your project team’s success and ultimately of your individual success.

Here are 4 things you can do to successfully build engagement within your teams:

#1: Apply Visionary Leadership

There are many different styles and classifications of leadership. Visionary leaders see the untapped potential in their teams. These leaders focus on communication, organization, charisma, and strategic thinking.

Communication – You need to be able to visualize and communicate the goals of the project and the dreams you have for your team. Only then can you engage in a meaningful dialogue with the team to learn about their dreams and establish ‘how’ the TEAM will complete the project’s goals.

Charisma – Enthusiasm is an important emotion that you, as the belt, need to display and demonstrate as you lead your team. Genuine enthusiasm and encouragement can positively influence your team members and improve their engagement.

Organization – Your organizational skills start when you are first read the project’s business case and objectives. Organizing your thoughts and potential approach to the project will lead you to the knowledge and skills that your team will need. Once the knowledge and skills have been identified you need to take the time to build your teams. Can you select and organize people in a way that allows their best skills and talent to shine?

Strategic Thinking – Can you strategize what the real vision for the team will be? You need to be able to look to the future and see where everyone will fit and how you will run the project. Predict where you think the DMAIC process will lead you, what your team can achieve and communicate a tactical plan to achieve success. You can and will need to push your team in a positive manner.

How do you recognize diversity?

#2: Recognize, Adapt and Embrace Diversity

Organizational cultures are wide and varied in part because of the wide and varied cultures, background and experiences of their employees. These differences can be expanded when you recognize that there are four generations represented in the work force.

In order to leverage the differences to develop an aligned and engaged high performing team, you will need to adapt ‘how’ you engage with your team members.

You can do this through "mapping", "bridging" and "integrating":

Mapping - Focuses on recognizing and understanding differences; these differences are important to collaboration & innovation. From the perspective of a multi-generational team a good place to start is by mapping the unique values and preferences of each generation.

Bridging - The goal of the bridging step is to increase the effectiveness of communication through an interaction across the differences that exist between individuals and/or groups. There are three separate parts to bridging:

a. Preparing a foundation - Focuses on two points. (1) The motivation to understand the other person, other members of your team and your organization. (2) Drives towards establishing confidence that a mutual understanding can be achieved through Team Work.

b. Decentering – This step will bring the differences to the forefront and then engage the parties in a process of viewing the situation through the eyes of the other person or of the group. This "Perspective Taking" step requires a blame free environment where the parties involved will withhold blame and/or judgment while they explore the different perspectives.

c. Recentering – This step utilizes an approach opposite of decentering by focusing on building upon the similarities between the individual and/or groups. The output of this step is the establishment of a common viewpoint and common rules for interaction.

Integrating– this is about bringing it all together to leverage the differences and create a stronger, more capable team that includes participation by all team members, positive conflict resolution and innovation through collaborative building upon each others ideas.

a. Managing Participation– Gain everyone's (all levels) input before moving forward. One critical point to remember is that engagement must occur across a decision making task; involving all of the methods for positive communication (Face-to-Face, e-mail, pictures, dialogue, etc.) and should occur in multiple settings (small groups, large groups, 1:1, formal and informal settings).

b. Resolving Conflicts– Focus on the system level need or requirement related to the conflict. This allows the parties to work together in overcoming the challenge versus advancing their solution, based upon how they are impacted. One key point is to remember that different cultures and generations express conflict in different manners. Understand how the cultures/generations you are dealing with express conflict so that no viewpoint is missed. But do not forget that healthy conflict is essential in driving to the best solution; the goal is not to get everyone to agree that the idea is the right idea, the goal is to get everyone to agree that it is the best alternative based on the information available at the time the decision is required.

c. Building on Ideas – Leverage the tools that you have experience with, like a cause & effect diagram to articulate the key challenge being addressed and brainstorm to develop a large list of potential solutions that could be implemented. The goal is to move towards an innovative environment that leverages the differences in culture and generations to develop the best solution of the individuals and the organization as a whole.

#3: Provide Unique Training & Development Opportunities

You most likely know the stages of team development; forming, storming, norming and performing. Based on your experience you can see when the team you are leading progresses through these stages and you are probably impatient as your team reaches the point when they oscillate between Storming and Norming. What are you doing to inspire a collaborative and engaging environment for your team?

Here are a few things that you can try as your team is forming and when your team is stuck:

  • Facilitate a learning session focused on the skills required for collaboration
  • Play a game that requires collaboration
  • Conduct a scavenger hunt where team members are paired with one another
  • Volunteer in a community service activity like Habitat for Humanity

#4: Create a "Carrot Culture"

"The Carrot Principle" by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton was first published in 2007. The premise of book is about how to create a "Carrot Culture" – A rare environment where employees are valued and appreciated for their contributions, evoking passion and high performance. In the book the authors teach readers that "Carrots" are the verbal praise, both individual or public, along with the 4 basic leadership skills…Trust, Accountability, and Communication and Goal-Setting working together to create a "Carrot Culture".

This same approach can be used successfully in leading your project team. What would be better than to leading a team where the team members were valued, appreciated and passionate about their work?

The challenges that you will face as the project Green, Black or Master Black belt, are wide and varied. In some instances everything will appear to be laid out for a quick and smooth project; only to be derailed as your team digs into the process using the Lean Six Sigma toolset.

With the ‘unknown’ that your team will uncover as you move through the DMAIC process; it is imperative that you have a team that is united and engaged in achieving a common vision.

In closing, I leave you with these four thoughts:

  • Care more than others think is wise
  • Risk more than others think is safe
  • Dream bigger than others think is practical
  • Expect more than others think is possible

And remember, it starts with you!