By Mehmet Baha

I really do not know why I did it. Normally, I am not a big fan of getting an autograph from an author whose book I read. When was the last time I asked for an autograph from an author? I do not even remember that. Standing in a line to get an autograph seems a burden for me. It was the first time I even saw this author except his photos and videos on the internet. I then found myself in front of him. This author is Marcus Buckingham. 

Buckingham is an author of best-selling books and thought leader with a mission to unlock people’s strengths and increase their performance. I had the pleasure of meeting him and listening to his powerful keynote talk at HR Summit and Expo (HRSE) 2019 in Dubai where I also gave a talk on Agile.

According to Buckingham, most organisations in the world do not know very much about their teams. In his latest book titled “Nine Lies about Work”, Buckingham writes: “Current HR systems are extensions of financial systems and so are able to show only who-reports-to-whom boxes on an organisation chart…Most work does not happen in these structured boxes.” According to the study of ADP Research Institute, where Buckingham is head of people and performance research, 64% of employees work on more than one team, and this is not represented in an organisational chart. Many organisations do not understand the significance of teams. That is one of the reasons why the global employee engagement is relatively low. That is, only 16% of employees in the world are fully engaged at work. 

Feeling part of a team: Being part of a team is the most important driver of employee engagement, according to the study of ADP Research Institute. Virtually all work done in organisations is teamwork. The same study shows that 82% of employees work on a team. If we are on a team, we are twice as likely to have a high engagement as those who are not. Most engaged employees work on five distinct teams. Buckingham emphasizes that we change teams, not companies. For instance, when we are in a good team at a bad organisation, we might stay in that organisation. When we are in a bad team at a good organisation, we might leave that organisation. 

Practice: Make team joining the most important part of onboarding. What are specific actions you can take to make people feel part of a team? Which teams are the best teams in your organisation? How can you create more teams like your best teams? 

Trust: A trusted team leader is a key aspect of building highly engaged teams. If employees trust their leader, they are twelve times more likely to be fully engaged at work. According to the study of the ADP Research Institute, these two statements show the strongest relationship to a worker’s feeling of trust in their teams, “I know clearly what is expected of me at work” and “I have the chance to use my strengths everyday at work.” What is more, Buckingham suggests leaders to liberate as much information as possible. Information in real-time helps employees do their work better. The main idea here is for leaders to enable employees to access as much information related to their work as possible so that employees can make their own decisions, because employees are closer to customers. Liberating more information has a positive influence on creating trust in your team. 

Practice: Ensure that employees in your team know clearly what is expected of them at work. How can you liberate more information related to employees’ work? 

Strengths: “Using our strengths every day at work” is the single most important indicator of team productivity. Buckingham states that strengths are not simply tasks we are good at doing. Maybe we are good at them, but they are boring for us or drain our energy. We have a strength in an area, when a. we look forward to it, b. we are in the flow while doing it, and c. we feel fulfilled after doing it. As leaders, it is crucial for us to know our own strengths as well as the strengths of our team members. 

Practice: How can you allow your team members to use their strengths everyday at work?

Feedback: According to a research at Gallup, positive feedback is thirty times more powerful than negative feedback in creating a high performing  team. Focusing mainly on negative feedback is not the best way to enable learning. Buckingham writes: “People grow the most under positive attention and the least under negative feedback.” The more we catch our employees doing things wrong, the less productive they are in the short term and there will be less growth in the long term. According to the research of Buckingham, praise leads to performance, not performance leading to praise. Of course, when employees make a mistake, we should correct it. By fixing errors we cannot create excellence. To create a high performing team, we can have three to five moments of positive interaction for every negative feedback. The work of John Gottmans and Prof Barbara Fredrickson confirms this positive-to-negative ratio not only in healthy work environments but also in happy marriages.

Practice: What can you do to increase the positive-to-negative feedback ratio in your team?

Team experience is the most significant aspect of our work experience. Leaders in a team have the biggest impact on a team experience. Buckingham underscores the point that when organisations around the world focus more on creating great teams and understanding what makes them so, global employee engagement might significantly rise. 

It turns out that an autograph was just an excuse. I started talking with Marcus Buckingham about teams and corporate culture. Despite the background noise in the elegant exposition hall at HRSE Dubai, Buckingham was totally present and focused on our conversation. In his latest book, he points out that he does not believe in work-life balance. He writes: “Love-in-work matters most.” He is a vivid example of this. Love-in-work matters indeed and contributes to employee engagement.

About the Author:

Mehmet Baha is Founder of Solution Folder which provides training solutions to create collaborative work culture in companies. He has more than 16 years of work experience residing in Germany, USA, Turkey, Cyprus and Ireland. He was one of the first employees of Facebook in Europe where he helped Facebook scale its business. He is also a REMO-endorsed artist. Combining his skills in music and his expertise in business, he designs and delivers unique learning experiences to improve collaboration in workplaces.