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Leading a highly engaged team

As a leader, you must now not only think about how to engage employees whose work tasks differ but also whose workplaces and work schedules differ.

To counteract the incoming wave of employee turnover, leaders — more than ever — need to focus on cultivating employee engagement. The challenges of remote work, the process of returning to the office, and the mass exodus of workers have all served to threaten a sense of community. In addition, most of our remote work interactions have been with our immediate colleagues and focused largely on the tasks at hand, and as a result, according to research from Microsoft cross-functional collaboration went down by 25 percent. Silos were certainly prevalent before the pandemic and hybrid work has simply created new requirements for effectively connecting teams that work together on shared outcomes.

The ultimate driver of cross-functional health is the quality of leadership. Leaders who model empathy, curiosity, proficiency with conflict, and a genuine desire to create widespread shared success build the strongest cross-functional partnerships, however, these leadership skills don’t often come naturally, especially to highly results-oriented leaders.

Autonomy over flexibility

In a recent HBR hybrid working study of 5,000 knowledge workers around the world, 59 percent of respondents reported that “flexibility” is more important to them than salary or other benefits, and 77 percent said they would prefer to work for an organisation that gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere rather than flashy corporate headquarters. However, with 61 percent of employees reporting that they would prefer, if they were allowed, to come into the office when they need to and work from home when they need to, the data also shows that the flexibility they want is conditional upon autonomy.

The same study has found that 71 percent of the global workforce now sees the physical office space simply as a social amenity rather than a mandatory way of working, and 85 percent feel that being confident in their technology allows them to excel at work. The most important levers leaders have at their disposal to boost their employees’ engagement are to help employees connect what they do to what they care about, make the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable, and reward employees. However, leaders are often not aware of what is the most important lever for driving employee engagement, creating a mismatch between what leaders think their employees need versus what they actually need.

Engagement in a hybrid workplace

Engagement is an outcome, not an input, and requires a consistent approach. It is a result of many elements, from internal communication, through learning and development to more intangible aspects such as a manager that listens and cares about employee wellbeing. Engaged employees feel committed to and identify with their organisation, feel satisfied with their job and energised at work. Organisations with strong employee engagement also have higher levels of customer satisfaction, lower attrition, and better business performance.

Engaged employees are psychological "owners," drive high performance and innovation, and move the organisation forward. To drive engagement, leaders need to know if their employees connect with the strategic direction of the company, if they feel as though their work is important to the organisation’s success, have the tools and resources they need to be successful, and are able to connect and collaborate with their team and manager. This requires ongoing coaching conversations with employees, however most managers don't know how to make frequent conversations meaningful, so their actions are more likely to be interpreted as micromanaging without providing the right tools and direction.

When employees are engaged, they show high levels of enthusiasm, energy and motivation, which translates into higher levels of performance, creativity and productivity, not only resulting in increased revenues, but also higher levels of employee wellbeing. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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