Hey there! With over 20 years of experience in product development, I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures along the way. Today, I want to take you through my journey and the lessons I’ve learned to create a thriving team environment. So let’s dive in!
When I think about boosting team engagement, I can’t help but remember my first attempt at a leadership career. It was 12 years ago when I joined Privalia as a “Web Design Lead.” I had a small team of two designers, but despite my efforts to engage them through new rituals, clear career growth plans, and unwavering support, I failed. The experience left me uncertain about my abilities as a leader. I questioned whether I had everything I needed to lead effectively.
The Current Landscape
Boosting team engagement is crucial in today’s work environment. According to the state of the global workplace 2023 report from Gallup, the percentage of engaged employees reached a record high in 2022, increasing from 12% in 2009 to 23% in 2022. However, there are concerning numbers as well, with many employees actively looking for new job opportunities or disengaging from their current roles. This phenomenon, known as “The Great Resignation,” highlights the need to address employee engagement proactively.
Analysing Designer Needs
If you look at this challenge with a design thinking mindset, you will quickly notice that you can’t solve it only business needs in mind (have them engaged with culture, productive, with a clear career growth). You need to also consider their personal needs and find the sweet spot intersection. You can identify those needs by talking to your team (if you have their trust), and by understanding their needs through psychology.
Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist who created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Drawing inspiration from his work, we can identify key areas that contribute to a designer’s self-fulfilment. Maslow believed that individuals strive for personal fulfilment by satisfying their fundamental needs in a specific order: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
By addressing these needs, we can create an environment where designers can thrive and feel fulfilled:
- Physiological (Basic) Needs: Ensure access to basic needs, equipment, and resources to support designers’ physical well-being.
- Safety and Security: Provide fair remuneration and create a secure environment free from threats or uncertainties, allowing designers to focus on their work.
- Love and Belonging: Foster a sense of belonging within the design community, both professionally and personally. Encourage collaboration, connection, and a supportive team culture.
- Self-Esteem: Help designers understand how their work contributes to the company’s success and empower them to make a meaningful impact. Recognise their achievements and provide opportunities for growth and development.
- Self-Actualization: Support designers in developing a clear personal vision, purpose, and goals. Encourage them to align their aspirations with the company’s vision and provide resources and mentorship to help them achieve their full potential.
All of this sounds wonderful but in reality if your team is unsatisfied and disengaged, you will most likely need to show to them that you care and want to support them. And that you can only achieve with Authentic Leadership.
Getting Your Team’s Trust with Authentic Leadership
Once I decided to change from the Principal Designer track to Management at Zalando, I knew I wanted to make different than my story in Privalia. From start I decided I wanted to be authentic bring my whole self to work, And this was a whole new experience.
Here are the ten key learnings I’ve gathered along my new career as an authentic leader:
1. Be Vulnerable
When I was young, Sailor Moon inspired me. In fact, I even have a tattoo of Sailor Moon on my chest. She was a great leader, loved by everyone, and most importantly, she was empathetic and vulnerable. She didn’t shy away from showing her emotions, and that’s something I’ve embraced in my leadership style. Share your mistakes with your team, let them see when you are not feeling well. Show that you too have bad days. This will give them the message: You can be whomever you are too and we can be here for each other.
2. Be Empathetic
One of the most powerful lessons in empathy came from the movie “Inside Out.” I was fascinated by how easily they portrayed empathy. There’s a scene where Riley’s imaginary friend starts crying because he lost his most precious friend. The character Sadness approaches and simply says, “I’m sorry you lost your friend, you seemed to love them very much. You must feel pretty sad.” It’s in that moment that true empathy shines through—acknowledging the pain without trying to fix it.
Do not sugarcoat problems. If they feel sad for something that went wrong: let them grief or heal. Do not only show the positive side and they will connect with you in another level.
3. Guide Them
During my time at Zalando in 2019, I found myself struggling to define my own vision. As I worked on clarifying it, I realized the importance of guiding my team to do the same. I encouraged team members to reflect on their personal goals and aspirations, and I guided them in aligning their vision with the company’s vision. As Simon Sinek once said, “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge.”
4. Find the Intersection
While working at Zalando, I organized a workshop where I asked my team to identify the common themes that connected us. We explored the things that were part of our own personal lives but also the team and the company’s vision and values. In this example, inclusivity and sustainability were common threads. I leveraged these insights to create rituals focused on learning new topics and skills, incorporating sustainability and inclusivity in rituals and discussions.
5. Be True to Self
Authenticity has been a guiding principle in my leadership journey. I believe in being true to myself, whether through my voice, actions, fashion choices, or art. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe.” I’ve never been one to shy away from expressing my ideas or standing up for what I believe in. In fact, I once suggested a team-building activity that aligned with my passion: making graffiti. I knew it was a bit unconventional, but I also knew it would resonate with the team. And it did—we had a blast!
Respect, Trust, and Belonging by applying those you will get you team trust and be able to support them to be fullfiled and engaged.
Boosting team engagement requires a holistic approach that goes beyond superficial efforts. By understanding the needs of UX designers and embracing authentic leadership practices, organizations can create an environment that fosters team fulfillment. Through genuine connections, respect, guidance, and support for self-fulfillment, leaders can build a motivated and engaged workforce. This approach not only enhances retention rates but also promotes productivity, innovation, and overall team satisfaction.
Highlighting the words of Brené Brown,