Want to Energise your team? Talk Progress

I’m currently in the early stages of writing a book and have been talking to a lot of very smart people about what it takes to create a high performing team. I recently spoke to Grant O’Brien, Managing Director and CEO of Woolworths, Australia’s largest retailer, who had some interesting things to say. Grant nominated four things as being particularly important: clarity, openness, accountability and energy.

I found his comments on the importance of energy particularly interesting because this often seems to get lost in the traffic when discussing high performing teams.

“For me, although it’s an intangible, energy is really important if you are trying to create a high performance culture. It’s about entering a room and adding to it not draining it. It’s providing the environment for optimism; and that’s not going round and slapping everyone on the back and telling them they are doing a great job and isn’t it a great day and all of those sorts of things. It’s talking about progress and it’s also talking about ambition because progress and ambition are motivating.”

The importance of talking about progress to create energy is backed up by the research. In their book, The Progress Principle , Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer conclude that ‘the single most important thing leaders can do to improve morale is help employees feel they are making progress at work.’ They found that most leaders didn’t appreciate this.

In probably the largest ever study of workplace creativity these researchers asked people managers to rate what was most important in motivating their employees. Managers rated the statement ‘making progress against goals that they care about’ as least important. However when Amabile and Kramer analysed over 12,000 individual diary entries by over 400 people in 26 work teams from a range of companies they found that team members disagreed. Team members said that making progress was far and away the most important factor in feeling good about themselves, their work and their company.

Many management writers point out that celebrating “small wins” is a good thing for team morale. Perhaps it’s the most important thing?

In a world where our focus is usually on solving the next problem, we often forget to talk about progress. If you are trying to create a high performing team, it seems that talking about progress should be at the top of your agenda.

Have a great week.

Mark Rosenberg