The Pyramid of Engagement 🏔️

The 12 fundamental needs of everyone in your team, and how you can support them.

As an Engineer with an individual contributor role, chances are your job is quite clear. You may work on a product, write new features, maintain existing ones, and overall advance the tech assets of the company.

When you step into a management role such things change, because—as they say—your product becomes the team.

Your job becomes to make sure your teammates are successful at what they do. And for that, you want them to be engaged.

Engagement

Engagement is an all-encompassing metric that has risen in popularity in the last decade.

It refers to the feeling when you are not just happy of your work — you actually get a sense of belonging and fulfilment from it.

Engaged employees are happier and more productive. But what makes them engaged in the first place?

The Four Categories of Needs

Gallup is one of the oldest U.S. firms studying management and workplace dynamics.

By surveying more than 35 million people, in about 80 years of activity, it came to develop a model of their needs, called The 12 Elements of Engagement.

Such elements belong to four categories:

  1. Basic Needs

  2. Individual Needs

  3. Teamwork Needs

  4. Growth Needs

These categories form a hierarchy, which is somehow akin to the Maslow's pyramid of needs. This means that each category can be properly addressed only if the lower ones have already been met.

Let's have a look at the categories and the 12 elements.

🚶‍♂️ Basic Needs

Basic Needs represent the baseline for any kind of performance. People can't work properly without having them met.

  • 1 – I know what is expected of me at work

  • 2 – I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right

🏃‍♂️ Individual Needs

Needs about yourself and your individual contribution.

  • 3 – I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day

  • 4 – In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work

  • 5 – My supervisor seems to care about me

  • 6 – There is someone who encourages my growth

🤼‍♀️ Teamwork Needs

As human beings, we want to develop a sense of belonging to a larger group of peers. In this case, it's our team — and our company.

  • 7 – My opinions seem to count

  • 8 – Mission / Purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important

  • 9 – Fellow employees are committed to quality work

  • 10 – I have a best friend at work

🧗‍♀️ Growth Needs

Finally, people want to reach their full potential, and feel their job makes them grow personally and professionally.

  • 11 – In the last six months, someone at work has discussed my growth with me

  • 12 – In the last year I have had opportunities to learn and grow


In the most recent Gallup survey, only 1/3 of respondents resulted actively engaged at work. About half are neutral, while 16% are actually disengaged, or completely detached from their work.

The problem with disengaged people is that they also bring down others. A small percentage of unhappy people is enough to jeopardize engagement in everyone.

How can you support these needs as a leader?

The 12 elements make for a great start to reflect on the status of your team. Just put yourself in the shoes of your people and ask yourself the same 12 questions. The first time I tried, I was embarrassed I hadn't great answers for many of them.

I believe there are four fundamental behaviours you can apply to address these needs, on a regular basis:

  1. 🚡 Remove obstacles — do people have everything they need? Are they stuck with something? Clearing the way—even on simple things—is one of the most straightforward ways you can contribute. Sometimes just showing up and asking if there's something you can help with goes a long way.

  2. 🤝 Delegate — provide input at the beginning and feedback at the end. In the middle, encourage autonomy. Autonomy creates ownership, which in turn nurtures motivation and growth.

  3. 🤗 Coach and support — Show up, listen actively, give feedback and praise. Use your 1:1s to build a connection with individual team members.

  4. 🗺 Provide context and processes — they foster teamwork and make people feel they belong to something bigger than themselves. As a leader, provide clear direction and have transparent reviews and retrospectives with your team.

📚 Resources

  • State of the American Workplace 2017 — The latest report from Gallup, containing an assessment of the 12 elements for about 200,000 U.S. employees, and much more. It’s more than 200 pages, so take your time!

  • This great twitter thread by Sam Phillips, that inspired this post and made me initially discover the categories of needs.

  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs — in case you are not familiar with it, this widely used model of human needs is very helpful in understanding our behaviour. There is also a clear overlap with the Gallup categories, which makes things more interesting.

And that’s it for this week! What’s your experience with engaging teammates? Do you know something interesting that is missing here? Let me know in the comments 👇 or via email


Hey, I am Luca 👋 thank you for reading this through!

Every Friday I publish advice about product and engineering management, and how to improve your work in a team.

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