Since the beginning of 2023, I have had the opportunity to either deliver a keynote talk with questions and answers, run an interactive workshop, or moderate discussions at senior executive off-sites with 11 different companies. The companies have ranged in size from less than 100 to over 100,000 employees and have spanned categories as diverse as food and beverages, media and entertainment, finance, technology, academia and healthcare. While much of the content has focused on the future, managing change, leading in these times and learning to remain relevant, in almost all these sessions a new topic of concern, challenge and uncertainty has arisen regarding employee engagement.
How does one engage with teams and with colleagues in meaningful ways in a world of distributed and unbundled work, rapid acceleration of the speed of work, increasing burnout and a workplace with four different generations -- each with different mindsets and expectations?
The Triangle of Engagement
Engagement within and across teams, offices and expertise groups has always been a key to culture. The ability to 1) collaborate, 2) feel connected and 3) learn/grow are three of the four keys to Culture (in addition to a commitment to excellence). All three require teams to be engaged with each other and the work.
As the question of engagement arose again and again in different ways during my sessions and I attempted to guide, extract and build from the talented individuals with whom I was interacting, it became clear that one way to re-enforce both individual and team engagement is through a Triangle of Engagement.
This triangle consists of three behaviors which in combination boost engagement.
The three sides of the triangle are: 1) Curiosity, 2) Empathy and 3) Generosity.
One simple way to get people engaged is to ask about them and by doing so also get them curious about others. If someone asks you questions about yourself that are not tricky or puts you in a vulnerable place it is very likely that you will be engaged.
One simple question that few people ask but significantly boosts the ability to connect is this one: What three decisions or events have made or shaped who you are? (These are really two different questions depending on whether you chose events or decisions.)
This question requires the person who you are asking the question to have to think a bit and in that way is difficult. However, there is no right or wrong answer and everyone can come up with one, so no one is on the spot. The answer helps build a conversation because the person who is asked the question may then ask the questioner for their answer to the same question.
Try it on yourself and people with whom you wish to engage.
Today a mixture of polarization, generational differences, work pressure and speed give us very little time to figure out what we are doing, let alone get to see people from their perspectives and understand where they are coming from. But to engage one needs to be empathetic, and often part of being empathetic is to understand both you and everyone around you are also vulnerable regardless of projections of strength and power.
Asking others about the events and decisions that made them, which is being curious about them, is one way to generate empathy. Answering the same question if they ask you to do so builds empathy further.
In addition, a simple question can let you be more empathetic: How can I be of help to you?
It's a very simple question that few people ask. People find it hard to ask for help (though we all should) but we should find it easier to ask people how we could help them.
This question can be refined in many ways to better telegraph understanding of a situation or elicit a particular type of answer. For instance:
How can I help you more to manage X? (X might be a client, an employee or a situation. This question signals that you understand the situation and ensure that you can provide the help.
How can I do things differently in the way I work or manage to help you become more effective? This question signals empathy by understanding that sometimes helping someone is not changing what they do but what you do.
Whenever you give someone a non-monetary gift of time, kindness or help, or a monetary reward of a special bonus or one-time award which is unexpected and goes above and beyond, they will be deeply engaged.
Give first. Give more than you get. Give without strings. You will find that you will get attention, time and much more at a multiple of what you give.
In a world of transactions and negotiations try not being transactional or a negotiator. Today, people get taken aback when people help people with no strings attached. When one is generous there are two amazing rewards: First, one earns goodwill, which lasts a long time. Second, one feels good about oneself.
Why the Triangle of Engagement May Work for You and Your Company
Clearly engagement is a challenge and there are multiple ways one needs to address it, but this method is one that can be part of the solution and works because:
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