Leading Engaged Teams

by G. Rabalais - August 25, 2021
Leading Engaged Teams

Have you ever wondered how well you are leading your team? Whether it is a class of learners, a research group, a team of clinical support staff, or an administrative unit, we are called to lead effectively with the full engagement of our team members in the goal of making UofL a Great Place to Learn, Work, and Invest. To be effective, leaders need engagement. Let’s dive a bit deeper into just what engagement is and the overall state of engagement of the American workforce. 

In US companies, employees segregate into one of three camps as demonstrated in the rowing figure below: 30% are actively engaged (red, rowing)50% are not engaged (orange, just sitting), and 20% are actively disengaged, (blue, causing trouble). Gallup 2017: State of the American Workplace. 1


Don’t miss thisat best, 30% of your employees (team members) may be willing to exert discretionary effort, above and beyond usual job expectations to help reach you unit or organization’s goals. Reflect on this. Is this true about your team? Your unit? Your department? Understand that employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction or happiness. Engaged employees are willing to work on behalf of your teams’ goals by their willingness to put forth discretionary effort. That’s it. 

What drives employee engagement? Employee Engagement Statistics | Clear Review

  • Trust in the leader 

  • Belief in the mission/purpose 

  • A feeling of belonging in the unit by being heard and respected 

  • A sense of autonomy in doing their job 

Engagement is valuable because it drives better work outcomes, higher employer loyalty and retention, and healthier employees with fewer sick days and less employee burnout. The Gallup Business Journal (April, 2015) reported that “70% of the variance in team engagement is explained by the quality of the manager. If you want a mental picture of the prototypical bad manager, visualize Michael Scott in the American sitcom, The Office. Bad managers/leaders give no guidance, skip performance reviews, play office politics, take credit for team members’ work, blame others, micromanage, show favoritism, and hide information from the team. Michael Scott’s behavior results in employees who are apathetic, exert limited energy, have limited loyalty, and are even actively disengaged and causing trouble (to the amusement of the viewer but detriment of the team overall). 

What can we do to get better/more employee engagement? The key is in the managers. We must train managers well and hold them accountable for behaviors that drive employee engagement. The Mayo Clinic has distilled this down to five habits of great managers. Each year they survey their employees and ask these things about their manager: 

  • Inclusion: Does your manager/leader nurture a culture where all are welcome and psychologically safe? 

  • Information: Does your manager/leader transparently share what they know with the team? 

  • Inquiry: Do they consistently solicit input and ideas from you and your associates? 

  • Development: Do they support your professional development and career aspirations? 

  • Recognition: Do they express appreciation and gratitude in meaningful ways to you and your colleagues? 

Google initiated Project Oxygen 2 in part to disprove the value of its managers over their engineer employees. Instead, they discovered that managers were critical to their success and defined eight habits of highly effective managers. Managers demonstrating these behaviors had teams with better performance, retention, and work attitudes: 

  • Be a good coach 

  • Empower, don’t micromanage 

  • Be interested in direct reports’ success and well-being 

  • Be productive and results-oriented 

  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team 

  • Help your employees with career development 

  • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team 

  • Have technical skills, so you can advise the team 

There is a clear overlap between what Mayo Clinic and Google discovered about the important behaviors of managers/leaders in driving employee engagement and ultimately organizational performance. 

Take time and reflect. Are you managing and leading with these behaviors? What if we all used this as a model for how we should lead our teams? Imagine the power created by impacting the willingness of our employees to exert discretionary effort on behalf of our team, unit, department, college. Let’s train our managers and leaders on how important these behaviors are in driving employee engagement—and then hold them accountable. That might just make UofL a Great Place to Learn, Work, and Invest. 


1. Gallup, I. (2021, June 25). State of the American Workplace. Gallup.com. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238085/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx. 

2. Project oxygen: 8 ways GOOGLE Resuscitated management. Impraise. (n.d.). https://www.impraise.com/blog/project-oxygen-8-ways-google-resuscitated-management.