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Engagement is emotional before it is rational

By Richard Meredith - posted Thursday, 24 December 2015

Like Mark Crowley - Employee Engagement Isn't Getting Better And Gallup Shares The Surprising Reasons Why - I think employee engagement is vitally important.

If you’re engaged, you’re probably happy and motivated and if you’re happy you’re likely to be more productive and collaborative. And if you’re more productive you’re likely to enjoy the results and want to do more. And so, you will be of benefit to your organisation and its goals.

Crowley says, “Engagement largely comes down to whether people have a manager who cares about them, grows them and appreciates them.”


After 40 years working in and observing small and large organisations in business, the arts, non profits and media I believe there are common factors that help to achieve engagement, quite apart from adequate breaks and flex time. Here are just as few:

Focus on a project, enterprise or plan. Focusing on a project puts everyone on the same path towards a common goal with clear individual roles and responsibilities. It has an end point that everyone can see. Invite your team to frame the project – what, how, who, when? Provided you are prepared to be open a project provides opportunities for exploration and imaginative problem solving, and a compass to guide your exploration so it doesn’t run off the rails. Try to do at least one project like this a year.

Start from where they are. Start naturally with something social – a lunch, drinks, a picnic in the park. Then begin to nudge your way forward with ideas and questions, sensing when it is time to shift gears, to add challenges, to test trust. There is no need, in fact, it is probably counter-productive to speechify about your good intentions. They will only be proven by your actions.

Get out of the office. Find a venue that is not full of the familiar work equipment and the often sanitised office. This stuff is cluttering your psyche – like a dead weight. Look for a venue with atmosphere. Many conference and training centres look and feel just like offices. Avoid them. Try the local theatre – often empty during the day. Or a chapel, an art gallery. A community hall can sometimes be ‘right’. Or a warehouse. If you have a hometown circus see if you can work in one of their training spaces. Think outside the box – your office is ‘the box.’ Remember when you were at school that one exciting project a teacher allowed you to do that broke the boredom of the everyday routine.

Avoid analysis. As you begin, at all costs avoid analysis, avoid evaluation and avoid ‘correct’ answers. The saying ‘analysis causes paralysis’ is very true at this point in your project. Get comfortable with the void of not knowing and focus your attention on asking questions, opening enquiry – show you have an honest desire to share and to find new ways to undertake the project. NB. If you’re starting from a situation with high levels of mistrust this is going to take a little longer.

Invent your own journey. Avoid expert templates and formulas. As much as they appear to be helpful, these structures from the rational mind are seeking shortcuts to the ‘right’ answer. They will constrain creativity and openness and place control in the hands of whoever introduces them. The only thing that matters is your team’s project and your willingness to explore its possibilities together.


Minimise the ‘communication’ junk. This is not a time for powerpoints or for mind numbing videos. This is a time for facing one another as people. Get rid of all those office props that keep people apart while purporting to enhance communication. Floorboards, mats, cushions, a few chairs and a table for drinks and food may be all you need.

Take unexpected directions. Blast your logical mind out the window and follow your senses. Take what comes your way and build it together. Every great idea looks silly when it first appears.

Practise creativity. Creative exercises help participants bypass their habitual ‘analysis first’ reaction, allowing for openness and exploration. New insights and ideas emerge. Creative practice encourages collaboration and breaks down the barriers between people that have been created by the hierarchies of title and status in an organisation.

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About the Author

Richard Meredith is principal at Creative Practice.

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