How Visibility Creates Engagement

I often hear people saying, “it’s all talk, no action around here.” The feeling that there is no progress. Individuals don’t know what the other teams actually do day to day. The sentiment spreads through conversations at the ‘water cooler’. At best, there is an undercurrent of frustration. At worst, there is a sense of helplessness. People’s needs to feel like things are moving forward and they are having an impact are not being met. The result is a dip in engagement and motivation.

Of course, there are times when there is a lot more talking than doing. There is minimal progress and the disengagement is inevitable.

But… how often is the real problem a lack of visibility, not a lack of progress or contribution?  Daniel Kahneman coined the acronym WYSIATI in his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. It is an abbreviation for “ What you see is all there is”. Often, we give in to this bias at work. If we can’t see it then we assume not much is happening. It’s good to work on how to deal with this bias but that’s a topic for another day!

For now, our response is to bring the work into plain sight.  Making progress and individual contribution visible in the workplace. This is especially critical in complex, knowledge-based work. Often the work is intangible. There are many contributors. It’s difficult to see, at a glance, who is doing what and how they are progressing.

I was discussing this with a manager recently. We considered some simple ways to increase visibility of the team’s work. All involved a physical whiteboard or wall in the office setting. Supplemented by digital platforms, such as Trello, to include remote workers.

We talked about a Kanban Board format as a visualisation method on the office whiteboard. Categorising tasks under the headings ‘To do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’. It feels so simple. Often the best ideas are.

Here are some steps to get visual:

1. Based on short-term objectives, identify the main streams of work for the team.

2. Map out the process for each stream with milestones and who is responsible.

3. Add the key tasks for each milestone block under ‘To do’ on the Kanban Board. Colour coding or avatars can be useful to show who handles each task. This person moves the task card to the ‘Doing’ and then ‘Done’ columns as they progress to completion.

4. Review the board in a daily or weekly stand-up meeting to get a sense of progress and to deal with any issues.

How can a simple process to increase visibility improve team engagement?

  • Everyone can see what each other are working on. There is a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ which meets people’s need for belonging.
  • There is a sense of momentum as tasks are completed and milestones reached. This meets the team members’ need to have mastery of a task or process.
  • When there is a lack of progress, the board creates a reference point to have a safe discussion. We can see where we need to be. How can we get there? The manager doesn’t need to prod to get answers on progress.
  • Accountability through transparency. Individuals take control of the tasks they are responsible for. The manager can see how the team is progressing without having to micro-manage. This enables increasing levels of autonomy. The stand-up meeting provides the forum for feedback. The manager can target their time and expertise to where it will have most impact.
  • Prioritisation. What is the most important task to do next? This helps with quick decision making and reduces spinning wheels. A clear visualisation of your work-in-progress also shows when you’re reaching capacity. It may be time to bring in more people or reduce work load.
  • Impact on the wider organisation and clients or suppliers. Any team member can show someone from outside the team what they are working on. What they are prioritising, who does what and what they have achieved so far.

Has work stalled in your team with people ‘spinning their wheels’? Or perhaps you are suffering from a case of WYSIATI?

First step: increase visibility of your work. This may be just the initiative you need to make progress and increase engagement.

Doug Maarschalk is a trainer, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.