The Strategist
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The Strategist

How to Keep Your Team Engaged

Tips from a former HR specialist

I worked as an HR Strategist for 4 years in a start-up automaker. What were my qualifications when I landed that job? Korean. I could speak broken Korean and despite it being bad, that was enough to give me a job in that big company.

I was unqualified, had no previous work experience, had a big job in my hands, and on top of all that, undeclared competition against co-workers that were far better qualified and experienced than me. What kept me alive and strong in that position? My Korean boss, in his own particular (weird, kinda masochist) way, taught me the basics of any type of work without actually stopping to tell me step-by-step what to do. How he did that? He gave me exposition and was skilled enough to have my back when I made mistakes and fix them.

In the first two years, I was highly engaged at work, when I didn’t have classes at night I would just stay at the office until late to finish something. But when it got to the third year my disappointment with work began and as time passed by, the more frustrated I was about that job.

It’s been a couple of years since that experience of going from a highly engaged employee who didn’t notice it was time to go home to a frustrated one that had one eye at the clock.

Now I guess I know what happened.

More Money

You could be thinking that the reason for my frustration was all about pay. It wasn’t. My pay doubled on a scale of 2.5 years and jumped a big leap close to my 4th year anniversary working there.

Promotions and raises, combined with the perks of it certainly felt good and raised my morale, but it didn’t last long. Money obviously is important but it doesn’t engage for long. In a span of 3–4 weeks after receiving a promotion, my morale landed back to normality and my descend in engagement regained its strength again.


I’ve heard many times that some people consider their co-workers the most important aspect of their job. I indeed had great co-workers and had a lot of fun with them. Despite the automaker industry being a bit traditional in many senses, we had a fun and chilled work environment. Of course, there were some stressful days, conflicts of interests, and all that political BS common to all offices.

Overall I had a great work environment, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged at work.

What Happened

What actually happened to me and what I have seen happening to many others is that there were no more challenges to overcome. I was so bored of the same work every day that I even fooled myself into thinking that I disliked working with HR and Strategy. My managers got so comfortable with how reliable I was with my work that they didn’t even check it. I ‘cracked the code’ on how to do great work in that environment and followed the very same pattern for every new assignment. The lack of challenge bored not only me but many others that had also ‘cracked the code’ on how to do their work.

That automaker company was a start-up, during the first 2 years, almost everyone there worked as engaged as I did, but today only a fraction of us remained there. What changed from those 2 first years to the following ones? Work became too comfortable.

We suddenly had interns, sometimes two, a new team member to be exclusive to a certain project, number of assignments reduced, more policies on how to use the printer, etc. There were too many people for not that much work and it turned us all sloppy and consequently dissatisfied.

So, how to keep a team engaged?

In no way I am suggesting you stop internships nor downsize your team. What I am suggesting is for you to better design your team. You have to design it to a discomfort state, but not to the point of being overwhelming, just enough to give you all a few butterflies in the stomach.

This is achieved by doing exactly what my Korean boss did to me when I first started work. Giving exposure that demands trust and safety for your team to know that even if they mess up, you will be there to fix it and teach them how to do it properly. But all without micro-managing. Seriously, don’t do it.

Poorly designed teams are easy to spot, just take a look at how they set their goals. If your team members are having a tough time or maybe too much of an easy time establishing their own goals, you certainly have a poorly designed team.

The sweet spot in team designing is where it’s uncomfortable for both the manager and the team. If you can manage to reach it, the chances are you will have an engaged team and it will get even easier to spot the ones who are not a good match.

What do you think about it?

Do you agree with the idea of better team designing?

Have any other tips or advice?

Similar experiences?



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