Project management: Five ways to make sure your team feels engaged

Here's how digital leaders can make sure their staff are connected and productive.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Digital transformation will continue to be crucial to all businesses through 2022 – and that means the IT professionals who deliver these projects will play a key role in the success of every organisation. 

CIOs who want to get the best from their tech teams must make sure their staff feel engaged in the work they complete. Five experts give their best-practice tips for keeping IT professionals happy and productive.

1. Give your people a sense of purpose

Michael Cole, CTO of golf's European Tour and Ryder Cup, says the best way to keep people engaged is to give them a strong sense of purpose. 

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He says leading teams through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic has given all managers a much sharper sense of the importance of engagement. While everyone faced the same storm, the coping strategies varied between businesses and individuals. 

"The answer at the time wasn't to tell people that, 'look, it's going to be okay. We'll find a way through it.' Because we all had different journeys to navigate through. The answer was about giving them that real purpose and giving them an end destination," says Cole.

Now he's looking to help his organisation use technology to deliver further digital transformation projects – and he says a focus on purpose will remain paramount through 2022 and beyond.

"That's the difference for me in terms of the level of success that I can achieve through leadership," he says. "It's about making sure that each of my direct reports, and each and every member of their respective teams, continues to have that purpose in mind."

2. Communicate with your team in clear terms

Bev White, chief executive at recruiter Harvey Nash, says the best digital leaders really listen to their teams. What's more, they don't just listen – they act on what they hear. 

"Engagement is a much-maligned word, but fundamentally if I really listen to you, and you know I'm acting on what you're telling me, then that makes a difference," she says.

White says effective engagement starts with the top of the organisation. Like other experts, she believes clarity around purpose and vision is essential, as is the ability to communicate your approach in a clear language. 

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Successful digital leaders make sure that they constantly bring debates with their team members back to how the work being undertaken will help the business to deliver its vision, says White.

"You often see flowery words or statements that don't really mean a lot. So, get a clear vision and then, as the digital leader, interpret that – work with your team: 'The overall company is saying this is its purpose, so how would we interpret that in the work we do? Let's make this purposeful to us.'" 

3. Consider everyone's opinions and perspectives

Brian Roche, director of information technology at George Best Belfast City Airport, is another expert who believes open communication is the key to effective engagement.

"Me and my five senior reports sit down every week for an hour or two and we discuss everything," he says. "We talk about ongoing projects, and we consider everyone's opinions and perspectives."

Roche says these kinds of debates must include the IT support team. After all, it's those support specialists who manage the technology on a day-to-day basis. By having a voice, IT professionals feel more invested in the process.

"We thrash everything out. I give the team accountability and I empower them to make decisions. And they have changed their modus operandi from engineers with a very reactive stance to a totally proactive position," says Roche.

"So, it's all about constant and open communication. There's a good reason why we've all got two ears and one mouth. It's important to listen and understand the needs of your team, not only on a technical basis, but on a process, education and cultural basis. The result is I know the team are more productive than other teams that are 10 times our size."

4. Focus on value, sentiment and benefits

Sheri Rhodes, CIO at Workday, says there's probably a few things that can help IT leaders to keep staff engaged. First, work must be meaningful. 

"I think valuable delivery is really important because people want to accomplish something," she says. "They want to have a passion for their work. So meaningful work, and how we achieve that, is hugely important." 

Second, Rhodes says the past year has shown how important effective communication is to a good work culture. Workday uses Slack, email, staff meetings, and one-on-ones. The aim is to make sure people are happy, and the company uses a range of data-based tools to capture sentiment.

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"That helps you to understand the underlying themes and how you can work to improve things," she says. "And that's not just a broadcast mechanism to make sure the employees understand. It has to be bi-directional, too. Taking advantage of the opportunities to build in those bi-directional touchpoints in terms of what employees are feeling is critical."

Finally, Rhodes says benefit programmes are important to keeping people engaged, whether it's parental leave or flexible working: "Those are all the kinds of things that people build into their evaluation of the company before they change jobs."

5. Build an encouraging environment for creative ideas

Mia Sorgi, director of digital product and experience at food and drink giant PepsiCo Europe, is helping to push leading-edge innovations in customer experience for her organisation. 

"When you make a transformation, it can be extremely meaningful, particularly when you're talking about innovation or emerging tech," she says. "If you can bring these technologies to the fore at the scale of a company like PepsiCo, that's a powerful thing to be involved with." 

As a leader of teams that are pushing innovative solutions to business challenges, Sorgi says it's vital to create an encouraging environment, where people's contributions are valued. 

"That's particularly important with people who are working in an environment that may be in an area that other people don't understand, or they feel is a bit off to the side. Empowering those people is crucial because that's where the innovation happens," she says.

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