The 3 Keys to Leading Engaged Teams


a team working together in the office

There is no “I” in “Team.” We have heard this inaccurate phrase for decades as coaches try to encourage athletes and leaders try to inspire team members to work together. [1] The truth is, there is more than one “I” in team—one for each member!

So, leading a team is actually a balancing act that respects and honors the individual members of the team—including their talents and opinions—while ensuring enough trust is built between those members so that they choose to work together to further the shared mission.

This more nuanced understanding of a successful team is crucial as many organizations struggle with employee engagement in the wake of the pandemic, changing work environments, and a mixture of generational norms. Even prior to the pandemic, an ADP Global study concluded that a focus on creating great teams is the primary gateway to greater employee engagement. [2]  And as recently as 2022, Gallup reported that only 32% of US employees state that they are actively engaged in their work. [3]

Reversing this appalling trend relies, in large part, on raising team performance. For team members to feel engaged and motivated they need to be shown:

  1. They are cared about—not just as a producer of work, but as a person.
  2. The work they do is connected to a larger mission—they need to understand the “why” behind how they spend their time.
  3. Their work is recognized and valued—in a timely and specific manner.

Dr. Jean Greaves and Evan Watkins explain why these individual needs must be met in their new book, Team Emotional Intelligence 2.0: “Our primitive brains interpret our social connections as matters of survival” (22). In other words, if an individual feels disconnected or devalued, they will not be able to effectively contribute to the team. Therefore, team engagement requires balance between individuals’ needs and the group as a whole.

Greaves and Watkins go on to outline 53 strategies to help improve team performance, while also valuing the individuals on the team. These strategies fall under four core skills that make up team emotional intelligence: emotion awareness, emotion management, internal relationships, and external relationships. These strategies, when practiced regularly, will result in more engaged teams, and ultimately more effective organizations. Here are three strategies that address the specific needs outlined above:

Strategy #1: Check-In

In order to ensure team members feel cared about, check in on one another. Formal and informal check-ins help us learn about each other. We build more trust when we ask questions and listen to the responses. Take into account that quieter team members might feel comfortable sharing one-on-one but not in front of a group, so consider modifying the type of check-ins to meet individual needs. Such behavior not only shows people you care, but it also provides more clarity about another’s intent or changes that may be observed with them. For example, if someone is preparing for their child to leave for college, they might be more distracted during virtual meetings. Regular check-ins and ensuing knowledge might keep you from making assumptions about lack of interest in the current project.

Strategy #2: Re-Think the Approach

Whatever the current project is at hand, team members need to be reminded that the work they do is connected to a larger mission. So, when emotions run high, rethink your team’s approach. Extreme emotions can derail our rational thought. Sometimes it is necessary to refocus the team on the desired outcome to find a way that everyone agrees on to achieve this shared goal. Help them get back to the “why” behind the “what.” In that way, they can work together to brainstorm an appropriate “how” that everyone can get behind.

Strategy #3: Value the Small Things

Engaged teams feel that leaders recognize and value how they do their work. Make an effort to value the small things. A “thank you” goes a long way. Remember, though, to balance the individual needs with the team goals. One team member may love a public shout out in a big group, while another may prefer a handwritten note. Either way, be specific about the individual contribution. Bottom line: people who feel appreciated are more engaged.

By checking in on one another, rethinking your team’s approach, and valuing the small things on a regular basis, you can build stronger engagement for individuals and move the team forward to fulfill the larger mission. The key is to recognize that more than one “I” actually benefits everyone on the team.



[1] According to, it surfaced in the 1960s.

[2] ADP Research Institute (ADPRI) survey conducted in July 2018.

[3] Harter, Jim. Gallup. 25 April 2022.


These strategies were adapted from the book, “Team Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Dr. Jean Greaves and Evan Watkins. For more strategies that can help you improve your team’s engagement, please check out our training programs or contact us.

By: Sheri Duchock, Ph.D. Sheri is a Director of Programs for TalentSmartEQ.  She is a guest contributor for our blog and has been training teams for over 20 years.  For more information, please check out additional resources at:

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