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How Teams Are Retaining Employees Right Now


Apr. 4, 2022 Harvard Business Review

Why are so many people quitting their jobs? According to a recent McKinsey report, employers believe that it is a problem with compensation or work-life balance. But the employees who are quitting tell a different story. Their main reasons for quitting are 1) not feeling valued and 2) not feeling a sense of belonging. And yet during the pandemic, the most productive companies actually broke this trend and improved employee job satisfaction by 48%. What do these successful organizations have in common? They practice five principles that help their teams connect and thrive.

To illustrate these principles, we’ll use the example of Michelle Taite, a CMO who was appointed to help accelerate the integration of two companies after an acquisition. As we reimagine work in the post-pandemic era, consider how these principles can help you create a sense of belonging on your team and show team members that they are indeed valued.

Put People First

When the conditions are right, people can accomplish more together than anyone could alone. In an ideal world, the more people give, the more they get. A win for one is a win for all. Achievement is a positive sum game. In this state, people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Enjoyment heightens and productivity is elevated in turn. When a team does not achieve this, they enter a zero sum game, a state where everyone is motivated by their own self-interests, and the team as a whole suffers. Insight Center Collection Reimagining WorkBeyond a return to “normal.” 

Foster a positive sum game by creating an environment where team members join together, rather than protecting themselves from the zero sum game. This happens when team members relax into a trusting relationship that they feel is not just transactional but based in genuine care. When that relationship is achieved, team members trust each other to have their backs and respect each other as individuals with needs, aspirations, and joys. Referred to as shared empathy, this state is a leading indicator of effective teams. Leaders and teams cultivate shared empathy when they learn and care about each other’s deeper experience and take interest in each other’s lives — celebrating birthdays and inquiring about people’s children, spouses, and hobbies.

When Michelle stepped into her new role, she introduced herself to her team first and foremost as a person. She shared pictures of her family, her interests, and her heritage. Michelle’s team created a Slack channel devoted to fun and people, letting their personalities shine. She posted snippets from her own life, like a weekend family photo or her child’s meltdown with the caption “sometimes mornings are interesting here.” Make time for humor and create room for personal connection. Open meetings with ice breakers like, “What made you laugh this weekend?”, “What’s your favorite candy?”, or “What was a highlight and lowlight of your week?”

Rally Around Shared Goals

Anyone who has ever been a part of a sports team knows that achieving together can be a bonding experience. Tapping into the desire for greatness, team members strive together and challenge each other to bring their best. The joy of learning and ultimately winning is magnified tenfold when shared with others. Challenges bond teams — but only if they share a belief that striving to win unites them.

Michelle and her team use the hashtag #BeatOurBest to galvanize themselves around bold goals as they strive to build on their greatest achievements. When defining their marketing goals, the team framed the conversation around two questions: “What must we do to truly serve the needs of our customers and fuel growth?” and “How might we #BeatOurBest?” The how encouraged teammates to learn, experiment, and push the boundaries in service of the greater goal. And they specifically use the hashtag to unify. Michelle signs off in her weekly email with “Let’s #BeatOurBest together.” The hashtag helps orient them to the shared experience of reaching into the unknown and discovering just how big their wins can be.

Model Humility and Curiosity

People bond when they share a set of values that make them feel like there is something special about their group. Humility and curiosity are two values that can supercharge bonding. Humility is the recognition of our limits. When a leader models humility, it opens up space for others to contribute. The leader is recognizing gaps that others can fill and also creating an environment where it is psychologically safe to give bold ideas and risk being wrong. Curiosity is the recognition that there is always more to learn. This fuels the excitement of experimentation and growth.

Recognize opportunities to show humility by responding to feedback with openness and curiosity instead of defensiveness. Lead with inquiry and be clear that your proposals are a starting point. This encourages divergent opinions and creativity. Michelle demonstrated humility and curiosity when she told her team, “I am going to ask a lot of questions. They might be stupid, but that’s okay. I’d really love to learn.” To encourage curiosity, show delight in moments of discovery directly and indirectly related to the work. In her weekly newsletter, Michelle shares insights and inspiration she gathers from her own reading, podcasts, and TED videos. These serve as thought starters for the team.

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