• Managing people

How Engaged Is Your Team?

Dr. Amy Bradley introduces a research-based diagnostic for assessing employee engagement at team level—created by Hult Ashridge Executive Education

Monday 11 May 2020


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Coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown, business of all types and sizes will need patience and understanding from customers and shareholders and 100% commitment from all of their staff to recover and forge ahead. Employee engagement will be more important than ever.

Team engagement is the key, as confirmed by a 2019 global study, from ADP Research Institute, which found that if employees consider themselves part of a team they are twice as likely to feel engaged in their work. However, as we identified in our own research paper, Shades of Grey, labelling teams ‘engaged’ or ‘disengaged’ is too simplistic. Examining the dynamics of team engagement in depth we revealed four different levels or ‘zones’ of engagement.

Since completing our research we have now developed a diagnostic test—which is freely available—for leaders to test the level and quality of engagement of their own teams. Understanding into which zone a team fits is the starting point for improving its engagement and productivity. 


Register here to complete the online Team Engagement diagnostic

This involves responding to 25 statements and will take approximately 10 minutes. Results are aggregated and no personal details are shared.


Employee engagement measured at organizational level or at an individual level is liable to be either too broad-brush or too granular to really pinpoint what is going on in an organization. With organizations today increasingly less hierarchical, more egalitarian and collaborative, measuring performance and engagement at team level provides the most accurate assessment.

Our research revealed different nuances to disengagement that undermine the engagement effort which we categorized this into these four zones:

Zone of Contentment. Contented teams don’t push themselves. They tend not to go ‘above and beyond’. There are happy to do the minimum required and go home.

Zone of Disengagement. A high level of mistrust is one of the distinguishing characteristics of disengaged teams. There is infighting between team members, who often form into warring cliques. Team members don’t feel valued and respected and a blame culture permeates the team.

Zone of Pseudo-Engagement. True teamwork is absent in these teams. Instead, team members play the system for their own benefit, for example, by filling their time with busy work to appear to be engaged and active. They also ‘manage up’—doing what it takes to garner the team leader’s favour.

Zone of Engagement. Team members support each other, personally and professionally. They work together and actively seek solutions. They feel empowered and valued by their leaders and each other. They go above and beyond, and they have fun doing it.

Our original research, into 28 work teams across 9 sectors (since expanded to 41 work teams), revealed that 21% were in the zone of contentment; 32% disengaged; 21% pseudo-engaged; and 25% engaged.

The diagnostic test is still in its early stages but interestingly ‘pseudo-engagement’ is emerging as a trend, with 60% of the 41 teams - falling into this category.

What can be done to influence team engagement?

The important thing is first to recognize into which zone your team fits. Then a number of actions can follow:

Teams in the Zone of Contentment. Help team members acknowledge that they are in this zone. Consider varying work, introducing new projects or bringing in new blood may make a change. If change is not possible use the team accordingly, for example in functions where routine is more important than initiative. 

Teams in the Zone of Disengagement. Typically disengaged teams have rarely been consulted and appreciated. This should be addressed, with team members treated equally and given more autonomy and regular consistent feedback. The team leader is often a major cause of problems and should be replaced with team leaders who demonstrate emotional stability and strong people skills.

Teams in the Zone of Pseudo-Engagement. Team members should understand that ‘looking good’ individually at the expense of the team is not valued or rewarded. The connection between team members should be reinforced by co-creating a stronger sense of shared purpose, emphasising that the success of the team, not the individual, is paramount. Set team targets and explicitly reward teamwork.

Teams in the Zone of Engagement. Although this team is performing at a high level, leaders should not get complacent. Set new challenges to excite team members, share and rotate leadership to foster distributed leadership, ensure regular feedback to keep individuals and the team growing, and celebrate success consistently.

How well businesses get back to work after the COVID-19 lockdown, will be critical to their survival. The experience of working remotely, of running reduced teams due to people being furloughed or laid off, will all have an effect on employee morale and sense of commitment. The need to leaders to work with team members to strengthen team engagement will be greater than ever.

Hult Ashridge Executive Education helps organizations around the world improve their leadership talent, strategic thinking and organizational culture.

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