You’ve probably heard the saying that a team is only as productive as its least productive member. This statement may not necessarily be true in every case imaginable, but nevertheless, all teams need to adopt certain practices to reach their full productivity potential. Let’s take a look at six initiatives you and your team can implement to improve team productivity in this COVID era. Remember, though: productivity is not a constant. Even with all of these practices in place, there will be times when your team is just human and performs less productively than expected.
Now for the tips!
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The costs of poor workplace communication are high. For instance, a 2018 US survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that:
The repercussions of poor communication in the workplace can be severe and widespread: 44% of respondents indicate that miscommunication has caused a delay or failure to complete projects. As for the direct impact on business, 18% say miscommunication has led to the loss of a sale, nearly a third (30%) of which were valued between US$100,000 and US$999,999. Communication breakdowns also contribute to less tangible issues, such as stress (52%) and low morale (31%).
Communication is likely the most important aspect of team productivity. In addition, the striking impact of COVID-19 means there is even more need for productive communication – in remote teams, especially. Without it, each person may be able to reach their most productive and efficient self, but the team itself could still have room to improve.
Studies by the Gallup management consulting firm consistently show that “managers have high influence on their teams — they account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement” [and therefore productivity]. So, there are powerful reasons to improve the communication skills of managers, as explained in my article, “How you can improve the communication skills of managers across your organization.”
Also, instead of implementing dozens of communication tools and channels recommended by others (eg, “use this app”, “use that app”, “have these kinds of meetings”, etc), sit down with your team (remotely where applicable) and figure out what works for you. The most easy-to-use app in the world won’t do you much good if everyone on your team honestly prefers face-to-face contact or emails.
2. Delegate reasonably
Knowing which task to delegate to whom can be one of the more difficult challenges of team management. For example, you may have an individual on your team who can do practically everything really well. However, it makes no sense to give this person more work than everyone else just because they are better at it.
Delegating should be based on personal interests and abilities, levels of priority and urgency, as well as some sort of sense of fairness. Just because a person does a certain task better than the other team members doesn’t mean they need to do it all the time if they hate doing it. This is similar to “The Law of Comparative Advantage” in Economics.
3. Encourage reasonable time management
Managers sometimes take better time management to be a synonym for getting more done in less time. That’s not what time management really is. It’s more about properly doing what needs to be done in the time you have available.
So, for example, if you have a headache, you may not be able to finish everything on your to-do list. Time management can help you manage your tasks so that the most important stuff gets finished on time and you still have time in the day to nurse your ailment. It also implies that you should attend to your most important tasks at the start of your work day.
Time management is also about finding the time to rest instead of sacrificing rest in order to get more done. By encouraging time management practices that accept the human reality, you will be able to improve your team’s productivity and satisfaction levels.
4. Consider rewards and penalties
Some people work better when there is a reward system in place. Others respond better to the fear of punishment.
Instead of having one system in place that you expect to work for everyone, consider personalizing your rewards and penalties, depending on what an actual employee would respond to best.
The point is to give people the option of getting something they actually want instead of expecting all of them to be thrilled by the prospect of a bonus. That’s how you’ll not only provide the right incentive but also show that you know, understand, and care for them.
5. Find a balance between important and tedious
Everyone has tasks on their list that they find boring and tiresome. It could be sending emails, attending meetings, filing reports, or any other task.
Make sure that no one is tasked with too much of the tedious stuff at any given time. If they have to focus a lot on the things they don’t enjoy, they’ll have less mental energy to focus on the things they are truly good at and that make them the most productive.
If there’s no other way of handling these mundane tasks, you can shuffle them around. Switch the people who are doing them regularly, just so that no one feels particularly singled out and bored.
6. Be a coach, not a micromanager
Helicopter managers – otherwise known as micromanagers – can sometimes do more harm than good. They are not just a potential problem in the office – remote teams and matrixed teams can still experience micromanagement. (A person in a matrixed team generally has more than one boss, eg they may have a primary manager they report to as well as one or more project managers they work under.) If you are their boss, don’t constantly hover over your team to check on progress and their productivity levels, instead prove you trust them and the way they do things. Allow them to manage their own task list and time, and discover what makes them the most effective.
It may be something quite unorthodox. Maybe someone works best when they are not given a deadline, for example. Perhaps someone needs to walk around while coming up with new ideas. Supporting the idea of some autonomy is a 2020 McKinsey graph showing the way employee satisfaction increases when job autonomy increases:
Above image from McKinsey article, “Making the world a better place through workplace relationships, September 2020.
Strike a balance to improve team productivity
But don’t let go too much. A Gallup survey in 2020 found that leaders may fear being micromanagers, “but most employees receive far too little feedback.” The survey found that 47% of employees reported feedback from their manager only a few times a year, or less. Therefore, it is not surprising that “only 34% of employees strongly agree their manager knows what projects or tasks they are working on.”
Gallup says there is a one-question test to identify a micromanager: “Is the team customer-obsessed or boss-obsessed?” And: “A boss-obsessed team is easy to identify. The only thing that matters is what the boss thinks. Not mission, not revenue, not customers.”
In view of this, try to strike a balance. A manager who acts as a team coach respects the opinions of their team members. They empower those team members to ask questions, take responsibility for their work, do it in a way that makes sense to them, and come up with more efficient and effective ways of achieving the same goal. Most importantly, they have frequent, two-way conversations with their team members that lead to shared accountability for their performance expectations.
When a manager has a trusting, two-way relationship with an employee, it’s nearly impossible to be too involved. You’re not bossing. You’re working together. And that makes all the difference, according to Gallup.
To sum it all up
Take these six initiatives into consideration and see how they impact your productivity levels. Tackle them one at a time, rather than all at once.,
Also, you can read my article on ways you can specifically improve your PR or communication team’s productivity.