How ‘Pineapple on Pizza’ Can Help Managers Build a Connected Team – Part 2

By Nirosha Methananda, B2B Marketing, Brand and Business Builder

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – John Lennon

Dreams?! What fluff is this? Hear me out. Often emanating from dreams, business is very definitely a reality. Nonetheless, it cannot be done alone. Making business a reality requires people. To make business a success requires connection.

Though now a cautionary tale, if you look at the original cult(ure) of WeWork under Adam Nuemann, it was connection – to the vision, to the product, to the lifestyle, to the brand, to the leader – that hooked many of the team and helped drive the company’s meteoric rise.

Employee engagement has a significant impact on productivity and a business’s bottom line. And while there are many different factors that impact an employee’s view of an organization, one of the largest negative influences can be poor management.

However, adapting the fundamental customer advocacy approach to employee engagement – establishing value, building trust and forming connections – can help to promote engagement and, ultimately, advocacy.

Check out part one of this article for how to establish value through acknowledgment and appreciation.

Building trust through psychological safety and open communication

In the age of cancel culture, trust is something that is earned and very easily lost, especially through poor communications that manifest into damaging thoughts and stories.

For open communication in the work environment to occur, there needs to be a level of psychological safety. While there are many different definitions of what psychological safety is, the common thread throughout these is the ability to speak up without fear of negative consequences, whether this relates to thoughts, ideas, questions or mistakes.

Building a psychologically safe environment from a team perspective requires managers to create a space for individuals to be able to communicate openly and honestly. Approaches that may help this include:

  • Listening and serving. One of my team members used to tell me she enjoyed our check-ins because it was like her weekly therapy session. Indeed, at times, it was. The ability to actively listen and take the time to “see” someone helps to build trust and create an open space for dialogue.
  • Being aware of capacity. Understanding capacity creates an empathetic space to help team members and yourself at the same time. Questions to assess this can be based around capacity (0-100%) or how they are feeling (e.g. in control or overwhelmed) and from there, actively working with them on techniques for prioritization and/or re-allocation of work. This helps to open up a dialogue and plan around their day-to-day work, learning and development or growth opportunities. It also helps you as their manager identify if they need (more) support, training, additional resources and/or be performance managed.
  • Leading and leaning in. Even though work went on, life was hard to avoid during the pandemic. The murder of George Floyd and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement was something that deeply disturbed many people. At a time when we all felt helpless, leaning into this and creating a space for team dialogue was important to acknowledge feelings and come together on a human level. While it’s not always easy to lean in, giving your team the space to share or discuss situations (macro or micro) is invaluable to building trust.

Forming connection through community

As the saying goes, “There is no ‘i’ in team.” The ways a team interacts can have a massive impact on productivity and retention. Everyone in a team may not like one another, but there needs to be an ability to establish empathy, effective communication and efficient ways of working.

A formal way to establish empathy is through various inventories (e.g. personality, strengths, etc.). Having an understanding of your own and other teammates’  personalities can be powerful to understand how they think, work and communicate. From a management perspective, it helps understand the diversity of the team and what strengths and gaps exist.

Does pineapple belong on pizza? A seemingly innocuous question that can instantly polarize people. It can also be a connector; something that (usually) everyone can relate to and has some opinion on. It’s a question that I’ve employed with teams to break the ice, establish empathy and create connection. Other tactics have included brainstorming workshops, sharing a pit and peak at weekly standups, social gatherings to reward and celebrate milestones, and collective and collaborative planning, to name a few.

In my experience, I’ve found that teams that have rapport and camaraderie generally rise together, will haul in to #GSD and help each other.

The necessity for service-led management

While it’s typically been the remit of employees to ‘serve’ managers, the shifting expectations and needs of employees are precipitating a change in the old guard.

The real question is: how do you know if your managers are helping or hindering you? Ask! Get feedback, have regular skip-level meetings, host Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions or set up channels for open communication.

Perhaps the most effective way to check this is by committing to employee engagement goals and tracking metrics. Typically focused on revenue, customer satisfaction and business growth,  employee engagement is often not reflected in granular management metrics (e.g. retention, satisfaction, turnover). Placing emphasis on these – especially in the current economic climate – will help with both short and long-term success.

Perhaps the biggest shift lies in changing the mindset and structure around professional ascension being focused on people management. Not everyone is a natural people manager. Acknowledging this and mapping out career paths that don’t force everyone in the same direction may help those who do not have a natural inclination to manage people another path for growth.

Food for thought.

And on that note… where do I stand about pineapple on pizza? HELL NO! How about you? ; )

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