Improving team participation is a constant challenge for leaders, whether people are working together in the office or remotely. Many teams can suffer from “domination by the few,” where several people control every meeting and shape the team’s direction.
Getting the quieter members of the team to contribute and participate is a challenge for in-person teams and has additional barriers that need to be overcome for those working in hybrid environments.
Vivek Nigam, president and CEO of BeRemote — a tech startup that helps companies to boost productivity and team participation — has spent much of his career managing people through challenges impacting team participation.
Vivek shared with me a few strategies for being more collaborative, boosting participation, and increasing trust — all required for high-performing teams.
1. Build psychological safety
The team environment needs to be a safe zone where each member feels empowered to speak and contribute. Clinical studies discuss psychological safety as a critical factor in addressing the obstacles that hold back participation. Vivek shared a few ways leaders can boost psychological safety, including:
Actively soliciting questions
Providing multiple ways for employees to share their thoughts
Encouraging dialog and discussion on comments
Learning about each other
Protecting the teams’ information
Employees need to understand that information flowing out of the team is done in a very controlled fashion. In traditional in-person teams, folks rely on each other’s behaviors and trust to manage the flow of communication. In a hybrid world, the use of tools can make this information flow very freely and quickly. So, as Vivek shared, it’s “important to have mechanisms in place to ensure the team itself has some privacy and protectiveness for the conversations that happen. This helps promote a safe space to contribute.”
2. Build trust
Stability is a key factor in building and maintaining trust and safety. According to Vivek, “It takes time for people to get accustomed to each other, to learn about each other, and to appreciate each other.” Changes made to the team should be done carefully and managed in detail.
In a hybrid world, maintaining privacy is crucial for an engaged team. People need to feel like they can be trusted and, in turn, can trust others.
As Vivek has learned, showing appreciation matters in building trust. He says, “Recognizing an individual with a simple thank you has a powerful positive impact on improving participation. Most importantly, it needs to be authentic.”
3. Create tasks that require participation
A commonly overlooked tactic for improving team participation is to create a task that requires the whole team’s involvement. Most managers are trained to host an event or offsite with planned activities. These certainly help but tend to be short-lived in their effectiveness.
Managers should find a way to do a “team” task every week. Being true to his mission, Vivek shared, “We want to make it a habit for the team members to help each other complete tasks.”
Teams can have tasks that combine participation factors. For example, create a photo collection by requesting from each team member a picture of the last place they went on vacation or their favorite food or another “get to know you” topic. But don’t release the collection of photos until everyone has participated. The first try will take some reminders, but with repetition, it will become easier. And the effect on each individual’s desire to participate is positive and powerful. These are tasks that should be done at least once per week.
Every manager needs to experiment with specific mechanisms to improve overall team participation. There are many activities that will support the cause and desired outcomes. Remembering to keep the team information safe, find methods to build trust and continue to conduct activities that encourage or even enforce contribution. That will build a solid foundation for improving team participation.
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