Cultivating a Highly Engaged Team

Leading remote teams is nothing new to tech companies that, early on, created approaches for working with far-flung teams while many other industries continued to promote face-to-face environments.  This gives tech leaders a head start when it comes to managing across geographies, cultures, and time zones, and when utilizing the necessary software that allows us to interact seamlessly with the many faces on our screens.

However, tech companies – like businesses in other industries – may find it challenging to lead their teams when people are facing high levels of uncertainty on both personal and professional fronts.  The global pandemic means there’s no business-as-usual and no life-as-usual; this kind of pressure can be a quiet deregulator on a team.

Cultivating a highly engaged team doesn’t require innate charisma or rare leadership qualities, but during unprecedented times like these, you may need to lead in a more relational way than you’ve done in the past.Click To Tweet

Cultivating a highly engaged team doesn’t require innate charisma or rare leadership qualities, but during unprecedented times like these, you may need to lead in a more relational way than you’ve done in the past.  Results and outcomes matter on a team, but equally important is the level of emotional buy-in to you as the team leader.  Here are five ways (with supporting questions to consider) tech leaders can augment their technological strengths with leadership strategies focused on increasing team engagement:

1. Rethink the future together:

  • What is being asked of us by our clients, colleagues, and key stakeholders in the near-term?
  • What are all the ways that we can respond to our constituents when we have very little control over the “rules of the road” and protocols for reopening the economy/our office?
  • How do we want to viewed by our constituents? In other words, what do we want our legacy to be as it relates to how we responded during the pandemic? What stories do we want them to tell about us?

2. Reset goals with your team:

  • What goals and objectives serve us now?
  • What will it take to cascade new goals quickly and effectively?
  • Consider breaking your team into smaller subgroups to work on goals so that they can interact more closely and develop relationships outside of the larger team.
  • When will we do a formal check-in to ensure we’re getting traction?

3. Relate to your team emotionally:

  • What is the mood of your team right now and how can you understand what’s contributing to that mood?
  • In what ways is your leadership behavior impacting the team in either a positive or less than motivating way?
  • Take a few minutes in team calls for team members to share a quick celebration or a challenge, either personal or professional, and you can set the tone as the leader.

4. Reimagine the “team meeting”:

  • People are feeling exhausted from the barrage of daily video calls. Now would be a good time to brainstorm some new ideas and approaches that feel fresh and relevant.
  • Ask team members to share in the leading of meetings with you.
  • Practice extreme editing of bloated meeting agendas which often demotivate people when their particular topic gets dismissed or given short shrift.
  • Be incredibly specific about the focus of the meeting so people can get cognitively oriented before starting. Is this a meeting for decision making, problem-solving, informing, brainstorming, or planning?  These are the most common areas of focus but often they get blended together, which can result in low participation or confusion about what’s expected of people.

5. Refuel the team frequently:

  • In the absence of offsites and office gatherings, what are the options for generating some social capital during work-from-home? This could be a good time to find out what all the points of common ground are on the team.  Do they all enjoy a certain sport, food, type of music, or movie genre?   How many generations are on the team and are there commonalities in how they’re approaching the current environment?
  • Ask team members to share a few tips about how they’ve adopted a new routine or operating model that helps them stay positive and productive. One team recently shared how they all approach lunch time, and this brought the human element to the meeting.
  • Encourage appropriate humor and lots of laughs. This levity is critical to team functioning and can diffuse tension and stress.  It reminds people of why they like being part of your team while contributing to the overall well-being on the team.

Like any group that spends a lot of time together, technology teams need to be continually cultivated and refreshed.  Your leadership approach will be the most influential aspect of team effectiveness.

Angie O’Donnell is an executive coach and co-founder of 3D Leadership Group (, a Wellesley, Mass.-based leadership development firm.