How to Increase Engagement Between Teams to Reduce Employee Frustrations

image courtesy of

If the level of engagement between your people and work teams is low, it leads to frustrations and, ultimately, resignations. This article draws on a real situation and recounts the five steps taken to design a solution.

Not so long ago I fielded a call from a contact whose role has moved into a newly created innovation unit. It supports all the other major business units within her organisation and she sees it as an exciting development. However she’s ringing me because the heads of the business units they deal with have unrealistic expectations of them.

High growth targets have been set for them without any detailed thinking about how they can be achieved. She feels like they are a dumping ground for the risk that no one else wants to own.

It’s challenging because the team is still finding its feet. On one hand, they want to push back and set expectations at the right level and, on the other, they don’t want to send a signal that it’s all too hard and jeopardise their existence.

Upon meeting them, it’s evident they are a strong team in themselves which is a huge bonus. There’s collective ownership of the problem amongst them and a fierce determination to sort it out, together. My task is to help them find a way to increase engagement with the executives heading up the business units.

I’m not suggesting their organisation is totally dysfunctional or doomed. They are just like any other team with challenges to deal with. To better analyse the problem, we follow a seven-step diagnostic process that takes about 90 minutes. It’s apparent the executives don’t understand the unit’s true purpose and capabilities.

So, let’s break it down. The organisation has a clear mission, however everyday activities are not always aligning with it. Nor is there a logical link between the mission and the KPIs of executives, business units and teams.

The organisation spends months creating their plan for the year ahead. Budgets are drawn up and people get on with their work. Then, the plan suddenly changes, new numbers appear and there is chaos. Team members are understandably frustrated and at risk of disengaging.

Imagine if you’d meticulously worked on a holiday plan with your life partner, spending months researching, constructing and itinerary and making bookings to then have your better half (or worse half in this case) change their mind two weeks out from departure — they now want to go to a different country, they suggest halving the budget and also extending the stay. I’d don’t know about you, but I’d be toast if I was the offending partner!

If the problem is left to fester it will amplify “us versus them” thinking, reduce trust and burn out staff. They may feel angry, confused and reticent to go above and beyond the call of duty because they expect the same thing to happen again.

I asked the team how it makes them feel, personally. They elicit phrases like “frustrating to no end”, “wasting my time”, “tired of managing upwards” and “I don’t want to look like an idiot”. They are still coming to work everyday with their best intentions, however it’s only be a matter of time before they are worn down. Can we fault them if they start looking for jobs elsewhere?

All this is preventable.

With a planning day looming they can shake their fists at executives, however that will only increase tensions. We agree that they can drive change through simple, strong and consistent messaging.

The core message we settle on is “join with us to help get our priorities right”. At the session, they will gather executive input in creating a roadmap that will be brought back to them for their review.

From here we work for an hour using a framework for crafting the messaging details:

  • Context — conveying why we are having this conversation; how we are all working towards the same overall goal; reinforcing the credibility of the innovation team and defusing barriers to message receptiveness.
  • Problem analysis — unpacking the causes and implications of the problem at the team, organisational and customer levels.
  • Suggestion — outlining our recommendation is developing a roadmap for their review; adding in analogies, stories and statistics to increase buy-in to the suggested solution.
  • Influencing — pointing out the benefits of this approach versus maintaining the status quo.
  • Benefits — revisiting the benefits of the plan for them personally and professionally.

They can try and convey more information in their planning day presentation if they want to, however we discussed the merits of keeping it very short and succinct. We don’t want executives to get distracted by peripheral issues. The extra details they want to get across can be built into their roadmap process.

I’ll be following the team’s progress and level of traction with interest. Instead of firing off random solutions they have confidence in their approach. As they continue their journey there will be learning and refinements to be made.

Ultimately, there is no guarantee the planning day will play out as expected, but it’s dramatically increased the likelihood that it will.

For the members of this team to know that they’ve been listened to, understood and their experience and skills are respected is a surefire way of reducing frustrations and boosting performance.

Phil Preston is an expert in using the power of collaboration to help people in teams, projects and partnerships work better, together.

Keynote speaker | Strategist | Author | Applying purpose to boost business performance & social impact 🚀

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store