Havard Business Review: THE POWER OF HIDDEN TEAMS

An extract from another interesting article from the team at "Havard Business Review". Click on the link to find our more or register for their regular updates:  https://hbr.org/cover-story/2019/05/the-power-of-hidden-teams


Two nurses. Same job; different hospitals. One provides great care for patients, the other doesn’t. Why?

Jordan has worked at Stanford Health Care as a clinical nurse in the orthopedic department for the past three years. In a recent interview with us, she described how thrilled she is to be in a role whose entire purpose is helping people get better one by one. In particular, she loves what she calls the interdisciplinary approach, in which the family, the case manager, the physical therapist, the physician, the occupational therapist, the social worker, and the nurse all come together to choose the best care for each patient.

Fritz has been a clinical nurse for about the same amount of time, but he works for a different department in a different hospital. He works the same long hours Jordan does, but unlike her, he is not part of an interdisciplinary unit. He is merely one of 76 nurses, all of them assigned to rotating shifts whose members change from one week to the next, and all of them overseen by two administrators and one nurse supervisor. He is struggling. He embarked on his nursing career with as much passion to help people as Jordan did, but now he’s tired, burned out, and thinking about quitting. (Jordan is a real person, whereas Fritz is a composite of several nurses we spoke with.)

Both Jordan and Fritz face incredible daily pressures at work. The job is inherently stressful, the system under strain, the paperwork endless, the emotional burden of caring for the ill weighty, the risk that errors may lead to lawsuits a constant worry. For Fritz the stress lands heavily. His feeling, as he gets on the bus every morning to head to the hospital, is that he’s going through the motions, surviving the experience at work, trying to keep it all at bay. He’s just not engaged in his work. Something different is happening for Jordan. Something about her experience at work is lifting her up, not pulling her down. She is fully engaged — and her patients’ health outcomes reflect that.

Jordan and Fritz happen to be nurses, but they could be any pair of workers anywhere in the world today, one thriving, the other just muddling through. A question that weighs on employers today is how to make Fritz more like Jordan — how, in other words, to create more highly engaged employees. Organizations’ track record at doing this is mixed, to say the least. We wanted to understand what was going wrong.


What, exactly, is engagement? At a gut level we know that it has something to do with how involved people are in their work and how enthusiastic they are about it. But by defining engagement more precisely as a set of attitudes, we have been able to measure it — and understand its impact on performance. From research beginning at the Gallup Organization in the 1980s and 1990s, and continued since then by many others (including both of us), we know that certain employee attitudes can help predict productive employee behaviors, and that companies and managers and individuals can take action to improve or change those attitudes. We also know that the attitudes seem to cluster around consistent themes, such as a clear sense of purpose, a commonly held notion of what’s valuable or important, feelings of psychological safety, and confidence about the future. We know that when we find these clusters expressed in one person, one team, or one company, we can label that expression “engagement.” Finally, we know that engagement — when measured using a few precisely worded statements about the employee’s own feelings and experiences — identifies a situation at work that leads to productivity, innovation, retention, and much more.

But when we look at aggregated levels of engagement across time and across countries, it quickly becomes clear that whatever organizations have been doing to improve these outcomes — from efforts around company culture to rigorous performance management — isn’t working. One of us (Marcus), building on his engagement work with the Gallup Organization, recently joined the ADP Research Institute (ADPRI) to lead its investigations into people and performance at work. He and his team have now completed the most extensive and methodologically consistent global study of engagement yet undertaken, in which a representative sample of working adults from 19 countries — 1,000 respondents in each country — were asked to respond to eight statements designed to measure engagement reliably. (Read more about the study in the sidebar “The Ingredients of Engagement,” at the end of this article.) This study reveals, among many other findings, that only about 16% of employees are fully engaged at work, like Jordan, while about 84% are just going through the motions, like Fritz.