Keeping your team connected and engaged should be the highest priority for every business leader. I find this to be a tough challenge for many entrepreneurs, especially those of you who have long focused on technology as the key to the business opportunity.
Don’t forget that building a business requires an engaged team, as well as an innovative solution, for long-term success.
As a mentor to many early business leaders, I always emphasize that need to switch from a product focus to a team focus. You can’t build and run a business alone, and it’s even harder if some team members are not fully engaged, or actively working against you. Your challenge is to spot problems early, and fix them without destroying the integrity of the whole team.
Some of the things to look for are fairly obvious, but others are more subtle, as outlined in a recent book, “Connectable,” by Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen. These authors both come from a long career of helping companies strengthen team connections and reduce worker isolation. I like their list of ten top indications of a disconnected or lonely team member:
1. A decrease in work quality and responsibility.
Sloppy work is a key indicator of a team member working with a lessened sense of connection to either the team or their work. Examples might include missing project deadlines, uncharacteristic mistakes, and incomplete assignments. Your challenge is to respond with empathy rather than emotion.
2. Loss of a growth mindset or no interest in learning.
Curiosity and a level of optimism about the future are good indicators of employee engagement. When these are gone, your team member may be disconnected and lonely. You need to use active listening to unlock the underlying causes, and start giving your best encouragement and mentoring.
3. Negative changes in a recognizable routine.
Watch especially for uncharacteristic new habits, such as working late nights or weekends, as well as really negative indications, including showing up to work late, taking long lunches, and leaving early. Of course, you need to be present to spot these changes, and not rely wholly on the input of others.
4. Stops offering input on business challenges.
Team members with feelings of insecurity often no longer want to be really seen or heard. They actively avoid speaking up, don’t ask for feedback, and you may even notice a lack of eye contact. You need to boost their self-esteem and trust by giving clear feedback on positive past contributions.
5. Not showing up or consistently late to meetings.
Lonely and disconnected team members actively avoid meetings, and may be openly hostile to those around them. Your first reaction should be always to give them the benefit of the doubt, talk directly to them to find the root cause, and emphasize that you expect everyone to show up on time.
6. Deflects any non-work-related questions.
Only willing to talk about work is a signal that someone isn’t interested in developing relationships. Your challenge is to establish or strengthen your own relationship by first offering positive feedback on that person’s strengths, skills, and any common non-work interests, then pursuing stories of interest.
7. Absent or limited interaction with co-workers.
Team members who feel depressed or isolated tend to avoid joining special interest work groups, often eat alone, and dodge conversations. You can help by providing more informal opportunities for team interaction, such as team lunches, success celebrations, and a pleasant break room.
8. An apathetic or consistently negative attitude.
An unwillingness to present ideas, fulfill commitments, or be accountable can be a sign of a disconnected team member. You need to address this problem quickly to get to the root cause, as it can spread quickly to permeate the team. Make expectations clear, and make personnel changes if needed.
9. Has a disorderly workspace or unkempt appearance.
Examples that may indicate an unconnected team member include an overly messy or cluttered desk, disheveled clothes, or an ungroomed appearance. Again, your first response must be to individually reinforce your expectations, and offer personal coaching on how to resolve the problem.
10. Excessive focus on work, no social interactions.
Every team member needs a balance of social relationships and time working. Taking on too much work is not healthy and can be an excuse to avoid professional and personal interactions. Perhaps your team member needs coaching on how to say “no,” or needs time off to rejuvenate.
Many of you business leaders can spot the signs of disconnected team members, but struggle with the solution. You assume all represent skill or motivational deficiencies, leading to high employee turnover and retraining costs.
In reality, more communication and empathy often is a better solution. Make it your top priority, and both you and your business will see more success.
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