6 Steps to a Powerful, Inspired Team

By now, if you’re running any type of business you’re aware — at least in passing — of the global employee engagement statistics. Per Gallup, Aon, PwC, and a host of others, the numbers are bad. In North America, it’s estimated that approximately 30% of employees report feeling totally engaged. Globally, it hovers around 13% depending on the survey.

Even if you take the best numbers in each case, there’s a good chance that 6 in 10 of your employees are not engaged in their day-to-day work.

Perhaps you’re thinking, maybe the point of work isn’t engagement or purpose. Maybe it’s stability at the individual level; a paycheck, health benefits and vacation time. And for the organization; it’s about growth and profit. You aren’t alone, that’s how many people think, and have thought for years, and it’s not necessarily wrong.

After all, there have been studies that show having overly-engaged, highly-motivated employees can be bad in the long-run: career arcs and company growth models are much more a marathon than a sprint. You can burn people out with too much engagement.

That’s why I believe “engagement” is probably the wrong term to use. I lean more towards the term “inspiration.” Inspiration comes from the Latin inspirare, which means “to breathe, or from within”. Your employees need to be inspired to be great.

6 Steps to a Powerful, Inspired Team

There’s simple math behind this theory and it looks something like this: When an employee isn’t inspired, they tend to take a project and dawdle all day on it — especially if they fear a culture where new work, out-of-context, can always be heaped on their plate. On the other hand, an inspired employee can tackle 4-5 projects each day compared to their uninspired counterpart. That kind of engagement and inspiration makes a marked difference in the productivity of your teams and the potential for successfully driving initiatives forward.

Of course, I understand that updating rows on an Excel spreadsheet may not be inspiring work to many. The truth is, not everything we do in a day has to be. There are “shallow” tasks at work, and there are “deep” tasks at work. Sometimes logistical work needs to get done. The trains need to run on time.

You can, however, find ways to inspire your employees every day. It begins with real, effective leadership and not by hiding behind once-a-year performance reviews, or speaking to employees via e-mail. You inspire others by being a real human who manages the performance, energy, passion, and motivation of others. In the course of doing that, you’ll see revenue grow.

You likely have a gut instinct that tells you whether or not your team is inspired. If not, there are some tell-tale signs to look for: high levels of absenteeism, last-minute “work from home” days where it’s hard to get a hold of the employee, lack of communication between team members, missed deadlines with no explanation. These are all potential indications that you have one or more disengaged, uninspired team member.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, there are some key steps you can take right now to start building the inspiration and engagement levels within a team that long ago seemed to stop caring.

Six ways to inspire your team for greater success:

  1. Understand where your value lies: It’s hard to be inspirational if there’s misalignment on value. Some CEOs pride themselves on telling each department head how important they are to the business. This is great, in theory, however it can often lead to dozens of definitions of value within an organization. The sheer fact is: every business or organization delivers something of value or importance. The easiest way to hone in on your ultimate value is to spend time with members from different levels of your team defining the why of your company: namely, Why does it exist? What value do you provide? (If you think “value” is a little bit of an ambiguous term for your industry, think of it like this: what solution do you offer and what problem do you solve for someone that would spend their money on your product or service?).
  1. Align strategy and execution: Employees in a middle management position or below often arrive at their jobs every day with a series of checklists to complete. But often, the projects and tasks they’re assigned have little or no connection to what the senior leadership is thinking about, or working on. This disconnection of purpose and action can lead to entire projects or teams feeling irrelevant, and can take a costly toll on their inspiration or excitement for their jobs. The remedy is aligning purpose, strategy and execution. First you collectively create a purpose for the organization.  Then you create a strategy for each team. Then you turn that strategy into weekly or monthly priorities. Now that the purpose, strategy and priorities are clear, assigning tasks and projects to the team ensures that they are executing directly to the strategy you’ve defined. Be sure to revisit this process every month or you run the risk of mission drift and revenue stream drift, and people end up working on no-ROI projects for six months. Hardly inspiring. Align strategy with priority with execution and revisit it.
  1. Retrain some of your managers: Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel, had a lot of specific approaches to management and the role of management. As Intel was one of the first major Silicon Valley companies, many of Grove’s approaches have filtered down to today’s working world. Grove believed, for example, that the main function of a manager was to move projects from Point A to Point B. As new revenue streams emerge, though, the types of projects you’re moving and the skills you might need to do so change. In those situations, you need to be re-trained. That could involve financial courses, lessons on the IT structure of the organization, how the supply chain works, or a host of other possibilities. Too often, companies shift elements of their operations towards improvement of the end product, but don’t make the corresponding shifts in people. This has been a major reality for companies in the last 20 years trying to “go digital” without training their employees on what that means and how it shifts their day-to-day responsibilities. In short: people aren’t going to feel inspired by their work, or go along with new initiatives, if they don’t have the skills to shift with you. Oftentimes, new training is necessary.
  1. Discuss failure more openly: Social media sites like Facebook are sometimes referred to as “relative comparison on steroids.” You see a picture of your friends beautiful family or great vacation shot and think, “I wish my life was more like theirs.” The problem is: that picture is a moment in time. You have no idea what came before or after. The comparison is useless. This problem comes up at work a lot too: businesses tend to only discuss success, and avoid any references to failure (until the doors are closing). As such, some employees can look around and think, “everyone else is succeeding”, even if they don’t feel individually successful in their position on within their team. This can lead to a loss of inspiration and drive. They perceive themselves to be the single small failure in a sea of success. To avoid this, leaders need to create pathways to discuss failure more openly. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this very strategy was used by the Balchem Corporation in the U.S. and their stock growth was 107,000% (yes, not a typo) from 1985 to 2015.
  1. Recognition programs: Imagine this; you’ve worked for the same company for six years. You’ve been given a few annual raises or cost of living increases, but beyond that, you’re never really recognized by anyone above you in the hierarchy. Would that inspire you? It probably would — inspire you to start polishing up your LinkedIn profile! (By the way, about 23% of North Americans look for a new job every single day — which speaks to this inspiration problem too.) Many CEOs are concerned about the potential cost of recognition problems, but there are hundreds of no-cost things you can do. Try holding quick morning huddles where a different person gets recognized every day. You can also keep a chart of each direct report’s career goals and have monthly meetings where you discuss the progress they are making towards their goals, instead of towards projects.
  1. Measure: As a CEO you’ve been trained to pay the most attention to those business aspects that are highly tracked and measured. Inspiration can be difficult to measure, it’s that “you know it when you see it” kind of thing. But there are ways you can begin to measure the inspiration and engagement of your teams. Consider looking at statistics like: turnover by manager, churn by manager, net promoter scores, employee engagement survey scores, internal pulse (weekly or bi-weekly questions blasted out), etc. If these aren’t things you’re already tracking, then start today. Keep data on these indicators and analyze this data as religiously as you analyze your fiscals. Track inspiration. See when it’s low. Adjust and pivot.


If you’re still not convinced that an inspired team can make a bottom-line difference in your organization, consider the cost of turnover and hiring new people. When your employees aren’t inspired they will eventually leave. Those that leave need to be replaced. Hiring processes are costly — and because many are rooted in subjectivity, they don’t always result in a perfect hire. Meaning that new employee could end up becoming uninspired as well. That’s a distinct bottom-line hit — not to mention that the turnover of these employees takes valuable knowledge out of your organization. New hires need on-boarding which takes time and resources making turnover deadly for long-term productivity.

The sure-fire way to beat back turnover is to keep your people inspired in what they do. Sure, some employees may leave a job that inspires them one that offers more money — but you can’t control that, necessarily. Oftentimes, though, if it’s less than an extra $20K, an inspired employee will stay with you because they like the work, they believe in what they do every day, and they want to succeed for themselves and your business. This is why inspiration matters: less cost out, more knowledge in, and a better overall working environment.

3 Tips to Maintain Company Culture as You Grow

As a leader, your job is to design and build a powerful company culture that attracts both employees that believe in the work and the customers who align with your message and ideals. But, how do you maintain the culture and philosophy that inspired an organization as it grows?

Businesses are usually started by people with a passion for a cause or an ability to provide value where they see opportunities. As a company starts to grow and add people to the mix that original culture and purpose can quickly become diluted. A vision-driven culture, for example, can easily become a task-driven culture with a few wrong hires.

High-growth organizations need to have a disciplined process in place to make sure that the correct culture evolves and grows along with the people.

3 Tips to Maintain Company Culture While You Grow
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Clearly identify the company culture

This can be hard for many executives to talk about. Culture is a ‘fluffy’ word — it can mean lots of things to lots of people. While all other aspects of the business are very much driven by what’s measured and trackable.

The funny thing is, you inherently know what their culture is when you observe a company, but it’s not exactly something you can track on an Excel spreadsheet. So where do you start?

We suggest beginning with this basic assumption: culture is a key part of any winning strategy. Peter Drucker is famously quoted for saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’ and it’s largely true. If your strategy is perfect but everyone is chasing their own silo priorities and undercutting each other, that perfect strategy is like a tree falling in the forest. Ultimately, it means nothing — because the culture wasn’t there to execute it.

Here are five questions to help you identify your company’s culture:

  • What’s our purpose?
  • What are our core values?
  • What code of behavior governs our work?
  • Do we have cultural/ethical beliefs that guide us?
  • What does success look like?

At TeamWorks, we’re often helping clients navigate these conversations during their strategic planning discussions. They’re always interesting to observe. Sometimes, companies in high-growth stages have spent so much time on task work and financials that these questions seem very far away for them.

Clarifying your company culture in the beginning will make everything that comes next much easier to achieve.


Have regular discussions about your culture and values

Once your senior leaders have answered the questions above and you’ve outlined the culture you want to create it needs to be ratified and shared. Then, you need a feedback loop. What do middle managers think? What do your front-line employees think? Compile the feedback and adjust the outline of the culture accordingly.

Now, this isn’t just a document you create that sits on a shelf or hangs on the walls in the boardroom. It has to be a living, breathing code of behavior. Patty McCord created the Netflix culture deck, which Sheryl Sandberg once called “the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.” What makes the Netflix culture deck stand out so much? It’s treated as a living, breathing document — not a list of adjectives that executives repeat at meetings.

It’s not enough for you as the CEO to show up to meetings and talk about core values or use buzz words. It’s more than that. Leaders need to live the behaviors consistently and the values need to be talked about all the time, beginning with the highest-ranking leaders. If ‘culture’ seems like a string of buzzwords, ultimately no one will care. On the other hand, if your culture is built on a legitimate set of values that guides daily action; eventually everyone will buy-in.

It may surprise you, but I believe it’s better to have weaker talent and less experience on your team but have a thriving culture, than it is to have amazing talent and experience, but no culture.

Culture alignment in action

Two of my daughters work for Lululemon and WestJet.  They are companies that have a reputation for living and breathing their culture. When culture discussions and culture scaling are done right, this is what it looks like:

  • Both leaders and team members are engaged in strategic planning and operational planning; it doesn’t just get shoved down from the top ranks
  • The company credo or motto feels authentic and powerful; no one questions it as a buzzword or corporate-speak
  • There’s a kind of unofficial company “uniform” and “language” around how people dress, speak and behave at work. This culture is a way of life for staff, clients and customers; evolving organically as a result of the culture and values surrounding it
  • The current and future architecture of teams is mapped out in a significant way so that promotions aren’t driven by politics or proximity to the existing power core
  • Onboarding processes are driven by evangelists of the company culture, as opposed to transactional processes driven by HR or another department; this means that someone’s first few days/weeks in the company are focused on purpose and vision, as opposed to filling out forms and getting office supplies. It’s shifting transactional to transformative.

Facilitating discussions around culture definition and scaling is something we’re involved in a lot with our clients and we’re often tasked with acting as a kind of ‘ombudsman’ for some companies — we’re the ones employees go to if senior leaders violate the cultural norms they’re preaching. It can be an interesting spot to be in for us, but having a neutral third-party helps ensure that two-way, transparent dialogues are created about the mission and purpose of the organization.

Oftentimes founders and core employees can be very set in their perceptions about the company, its values, and where it’s headed. Having a facilitator who isn’t tied to the politics or outcomes can observe, guide discussions, and help you foster an authentic culture for your organization.

Use these tips to ensure the culture you’re creating within your organization will continue to grow and prosper, along with your bottom line.