How To Lead A Disengaged Team [4 Powerful Tactics]

How To Lead A Disengaged Team

What do I do if I lead a disengaged team?

This is a common issue, whether you’ve inherited a disengaged team due to poor leadership in the past or because the demands of your organization have been particularly draining, leading to a sense of disengagement. Fortunately, I have some advice to offer. I often remind leaders that “People want to do work that matters, and work for leaders who tell them they matter.”

This may sound like a clever quote suited for a social media post—and indeed, it’s a line I’ve included in two of my books because I believe in its truth—but it’s more than just a catchy phrase. It’s essentially a blueprint for fostering engagement and a positive team culture.

Let’s delve into this concept.

The desire to do work that matters encompasses two main aspects: purpose and progress. Purpose gives individuals a clear understanding of who benefits from their efforts and the reasons behind their tasks. Progress refers to the sense of moving forward towards achieving these goals, benefiting a specific community, stakeholder, or customer group. This sense of direction and achievement is critical.

On the other hand, wanting to work for leaders who make them feel they matters involves being known and being heard. Being known means being recognized as an individual. Employees feel known when they’re comfortable being their authentic selves at work, confident that their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences are understood. Being heard means having one’s contributions acknowledged. Employees feel known when they know that their ideas and opinions are considered. This creates an environment where contributions are valued, even if not all suggestions are ultimately implemented.

Addressing team disengagement requires examining these four dimensions: purpose, progress, feeling known, and feeling heard. By evaluating disengaged teams or individuals through these lenses, leaders can identify primary causes of disengagement.

For example, a leader might not have effectively communicated the team’s goals or shown appreciation for the progress made. There might be a lack of psychological safety, preventing team members from openly discussing their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Or perhaps, particularly for middle and frontline leaders, employees do not feel their voices are heard or valued.

Improving engagement involves adjusting one or more of these areas. When team members see their work as meaningful and feel valued by their leader, not only will engagement increase, but team performance is likely to improve as well.


If you want to learn more about increasing employee engagement and building a positive team culture, then check out my latest book Best Team Ever: The Surprising Science of High-Performing Teams. And if you want to learn more about partnering with me to turn disengaged teams into high-performing, highly engaged ones, click here to learn more about my programs.

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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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