Insights for High Stress Professions
Engagement has been a huge buzzword for the past several years in the business world. There are statistics showing high engagement is correlated with lower absenteeism, higher retention, higher safety records, higher quality records, higher customer satisfaction, and higher productivity and profitability. Employers stand to reduce costs of healthcare, lost work or productivity, turnover and recruiting, and increase profits and customer retention. Check out an infographic on the ROI of employee engagement here.
There are different ways to measure engagement, and there are different ways to approach improving engagement. In this post, I want to focus on ways to improve engagement in terms of how well a team utilizes internal resources and promotes sustainability; how employees lean in to their work at a sustainable pace, and how they prioritize recovery to maintain health and productivity.
What is rewarded?
In most behavior change models, there is some sort of reward (intrinsic or extrinsic) for desired behaviors; we wan to reinforce what we want to see. Each workplace has a culture of behaviors that are rewarded, and behaviors that are discouraged. I say culture of behaviors because it doesn’t really matter what is written in policy manuals, there are certain things that seem okay, normal, or preferred in a certain workplace, and things that aren’t. These things send powerful unspoken messages to the team members and can cause discord, confusion, and disengagement. For example, it may be stated that work-life balance is a priority on the team, but if team members are praised for putting in overtime or always being available, the team receives the message that 24/7 commitment is expected over work-life balance.
Here are some examples of common workplace behaviors. Which behaviors are rewarded (formally or informally) on your team?
It’s a time to rally (or it isn’t)
This one is huge! In our jobs and in our lives, there are projects, disasters and events where it’s a time to rally. By rally, I mean it’s a time to dive in and put in over 100% effort and rally all of your resources to get this job done or manage this crisis. Intense effort, focus and resources are vital to dealing with this situation.
The thing is, this should actually be a small percentage of our lives and workloads. Not every situation a time to rally. At my last job, we were a high performing team that cared deeply about our mission to help Soldiers build resilience and performance. We were also burning out. A big factor in many team members burning out was an inability to discern when it was a time to rally (all out effort) and when it wasn’t, and we did this at a cost to our wellbeing.
Now let me clarify something before going any further. If it’s not a time to rally, it doesn’t mean it’s a time to slack off or half-ass a job. When it’s not a time to rally, continue to do good work at a sustainable pace that’s mindful of yours and others resources. If it’s a time to rally, it’s a time for all out sprint efforts.
The thing about sprint efforts is they are short, intense bouts of effort. If you watch sprint-based athletic events, you see athletes put in all out effort. Then you see them hunched over, sucking wind, focusing on recovery. Sprinting isn’t a sustainable pace. You can’t continue sprinting indefinitely, and you need time to replenish your energy systems before you can sprint again.
Look at the work that you do and create a ranking system. Some types of work on that list are a time to rally and need that all out effort. Some types of work on that list just aren’t. Also, the things that make it to the “time to rally” list should be less than 10% of the workload.
The most important thing to factor in when it’s a time to rally is recovery. After that rally period, we need to focus on replenishing the energy and resources we spent during that rally period because we depleted them. We can’t go from rally/spring speed to normal speed and expect to keep going.
Employees with high engagement know what is expected of them, and they have the resources and tools they need to do their job. These are critical factors in engagement. Similar to we can’t be in rally/sprint mode all the time and we need to recover, we need predictable rhythms in the workload. We can’t keep putting all the hard projects on the same people, we can’t sustain top speed, and we need to build in periods of recovery (beyond weekends and vacation time).
A way the United States Army did this is by creating RAG training cycles. RAG stands for Red Amber Green. Each training cycle was color coded, and had certain expectations of training, pace, readiness and recovery built in. Each unit rotates through these training cycles on a predictable timeline. Leaders can look ahead at their training calendar and see which cycle they will be in at a given point of time, and plan their training and efforts accordingly.
Green cycle was a period where a unit was ready to deploy. This meant they were fully trained and equipped and ready to deploy to a combat zone to complete their mission. Soldiers put in long hours, the mission always came first, and emphasis was put on things that enabled them to continue at this pace.
Red cycle was a period where the unit was in recovery mode. They had come off a deployment. Emphasis is put on recovery, health and wellness, and reintegrating back into the family. Soldiers may have appointments and show up for formations, but they aren’t kept at work for long hours so they can focus on other things.
Amber cycle is an in-between period. Soldiers are gearing up for green cycle by focusing on building and refining their mission-specific skills and correcting any deficits. Soldiers are putting in regular hours (more hours than red cycle but fewer hours than green cycle).
Here’s something I find neat about RAG cycles: they can be staggered over different units. One unit may be in green cycle while another is in red cycle. This means at any given point in time, you have one unit that is green, or good to go and ready to deploy, you have one unit that is amber, or actively involved in training and can be a “backup” for the green unit, and you have one unit that is red, or focused on recovery and not able to be called up right now.
If you lead a team, different individuals can be in different cycles at a given time. This allows for individuals to prioritize recovery after those rally/sprint projects because other team members can take on projects.
If you lead a team of teams, you can stagger teams so each team knows when their busy season will be an when their recovery season will be.
Headquarters, Department of the Army. (2018). Training (ADP 7-0). Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN12051_ADP%207-0%20FINAL%20WEB.pdf
#engagement #resilience #ResilientTeams #team
Resilience is more than just a buzzword. Resilience is also more than just being able to continue carrying on. Resilience is about the ability to grow from tough experiences, to bounce back effectively after setbacks, and come together to stay strong when facing challenges.
Resilience in teams is about a team’s ability to navigate challenges, to maintain health and abilities of the team members, and to collectively recover from setbacks. There are clear differences between resilient teams and non-resilient teams in terms of what they do and how they handle warning signs, how they address chronic issues, and how they follow through after challenges.
Why is resilience important in teams? According to organizational psychologist Karlyn Borysenko, “a team that demonstrates resilience will produce better results over an extended period than a group that is not resilient because they are invested in the mission of the organization, able to adapt in the face of a challenge and support each other to achieve their mutual success.”
This is great! We want resilient teams. They will perform better, come up with more creative solutions to challenges, keep going and recover well from setbacks. But how do we get there? Resilience in individuals is about skill building providing individuals with the tools they need in order to be resilient. Resilience in teams is about changing the culture. Changing the culture creates the environment and provides the resources that allows individuals to use the tools that make them resilient, and the team to grow.
There are three cultural shifts we need to make in order to build resilient teams. We need to build a culture of engagement, a culture of adaptability and a culture of trust.
A culture of engagement is about passion and commitment to the work and to the team. A culture of engagement is also about moving at a sustainable pace; knowing what is expected of you, knowing you have the energy and resources to get it done, and having the ability to properly recover to maintain health and productivity.
A culture of adaptability is about handling change. A culture of adaptability is a culture where we take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, a culture where we anticipate challenges and change tactics to meet those challenges. It is also a culture where we can shift roles and workload based on individual and team needs.
A culture of trust is the foundation of everything else. A culture of trust is about knowing all individuals on the team are about the mission while having the best interests of each individual at heart. A culture of trust is about a team where each individual, with all their skills and differences belongs and has what they need (tangible and intangible) to get the job done.
Stay tuned for my next few blog posts where I share some tools for building cultures of engagement, adaptability and trust.
Alliger, G. (2015). Team resilience: How teams flourish under pressure. Organizational Dynamics, (44), 176–184.
Borysenko, K. (2019, January 2). Why Team Resilience Is The New Employee Engagement. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/karlynborysenko/2018/12/27/why-team-resilience-is-the-new-employee-engagement/#7189cbc45176
Davis-Laack, P., & Westfahl, S. (2019, June 17). 5 things that resilient teams do differently. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/90364553/5-things-that-resilient-teams-do-differently
#resilience #team #ResilientTeams
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