The Secret To Keeping Team Members Engaged

By Bradley Chowles November 12, 2019 | 3 min read

There’s little worse than stepping into a team meeting that’s dull, uninspired, and unproductive. No one really wants to be there, few – if any – new ideas are being put forward, and the final outcome will most likely be the easiest way forward, regardless of quality.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, it’s often luck of the draw – some people are naturally more engaged than others!”, then I suggest you reconsider your position. While there will always be individual factors that come into play, managers have immense power and responsibility when it comes to creating an environment that engages team members and fosters creative solutions. Nine times out of ten, effective teamwork is within reach.

So what’s the secret?

Many companies fail to recognize that effective teamwork can only happen when members are willing to work through difficult issues clearly and productively. But in order to do this, they need to expand their view of contention and be comfortable in tension.

Making way for creative contention

We all know what destructive contention looks like. This is when voices are raised, criticism is taken personally, and grudges are harbored long after the meeting is over. Destructive contention can also take the form of an argumentative person dominating the discussion and steamrolling over alternative opinions without a second thought.

Creative Contention, on the other hand, is far more elusive – largely because people are naturally averse to confrontation and either avoid it, or deal with it in an unproductive way. So what does creative contention look like?

Larry Pendergrass discusses contention as one of the core tenets of leadership. He suggests that, while it can be difficult to put into a box, contention has the following characteristics: members disagree and show passion, but never raise their voices in anger; they acknowledge opposing opinions without automatically backing down; they create space for others to speak, while being committed and involved themselves; they state their position clearly, while listening to other viewpoints.

Finding the contention “Goldilocks Zone”

When trying to create a teamwork environment that fosters creative contention, we should be wary of team members being either too cooperative or too full of conviction. If someone is too cooperative, they will naturally become unengaged as they favor group-think over their individual thoughts and ideas. Even if they don’t explicitly say it, the actions of such a team member clearly state “I don’t care what we do, I don’t want to deal with it.”

On the other side of the spectrum, team members with too much conviction can also become unengaged, as they refuse to budge on their position and deflect the thoughts and opinions of others.

If a team member is engaged, they will naturally exhibit creative contention – regardless of whether their primary mode is that of cooperation or conviction. If they’re cooperative, they’ll be committed to working together to figure out the best possible solution. If they have conviction in their position, then they’ll be committed to communicating their beliefs clearly and compassionately.

We’ve actually developed four Constructive Contention Principles to help any professional help their team navigate difficult issues creatively and productively. Keep an eye out for future blog posts, where we’ll dive into each principle in practical detail.

RED BEAR Negotiation Company is a global performance improvement firm dedicated to maximizing the profitability of the agreements negotiated with suppliers, customers, partners, and colleagues. If you’re interested in enhancing the performance of negotiators in your organization, contact us or click here for more information.


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