If you manage a team and want to increase its productivity, some well-meaning initiatives are optional. Others are not. Here we outline the 10 commandments to increase team productivity. They’re not just good advice, they’re the rules of the game.
Every manager wants to be in control. Scrub that. Every manager needs to be in control. But, sometimes, the weight of responsibility means that letting go and delegating tasks to others is difficult. After all, if you don’t do it, can you trust it will get done?
If you don’t delegate, however, being swamped with work is only one of the consequences. You’ll soon find that time management for you and your team becomes a problem. Team members will miss out on opportunities to push themselves and improve. When you’re overstretched, deadlines are missed, quality of work plummets, and you become even more stressed as you recognise that you’re struggling. Let’s not go there.
Instead, assess, prioritise and delegate. Here’s how:
1. Assess the tasks on your to-do list.
2. Prioritise those that are immediately business-critical – these are yours.
3. Delegate other essential tasks to those who have the skills or experience to complete them and improve the business.
4. With any leftover tasks, hit the pause button for a while.
Does it work? Yes. A survey by Gallup found that companies led by CEOs who were good at delegating had higher three-year growth rates, increased revenues and better job creation. So, communicate openly with your team, trust them, and share the load.
2. Set realistic goals
You can’t reach a goal if you don’t set one. Goals help to give teams focus, and make for useful proof points – milestones on the longer journey to success. If you never attain that goal, however, morale suffers. No team member wants to feel like Sisyphus, condemned to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity, but never quite getting there. Goals, therefore, need to be realistic. To set realistic goals, use the SMART method.
Specific: What do you want to achieve? Do you know why the goal is important, and have you communicated this to your team? What team and resources do you need to make it happen – and are they in place?
Measurable: Always track progress. How will you measure the journey? How will you know when the target is reached? Your team will take encouragement from knowing they’re heading in the right direction, so make it measurable.
Achievable: To support team productivity, the tasks and goals you set need to be achievable – and, what’s more, feel achievable. That means you need the right resources in place and to communicate clearly how the task is to be done.
Relevant: Achievability is one thing, but productivity can suffer without motivation. Explain why the goal is important, how it will create an impact, and why the team’s combined efforts will be worth it.
Timely: Add context to teamwork by explaining why a task needs to be done now, and provide a clear timeline for the work that needs to be done. Again, ensure this is achievable.
3. Prioritise tasks
Every day brings competing pressures as requests come in from a variety of channels. To retain a clear picture of what needs to be done, start each day by prioritising tasks and making a to-do list – a task management app such as Workiro will help. But how to prioritise them? Try splitting them into tasks that input into longer-term business goals and those that are less business-critical but need immediate attention. Which really demand your close attention as a team manager and which can be delegated or mopped up at the end of the day? Which leads us to…
4. Complete difficult tasks first
Any personal trainer or yoga instructor will tell you that the hardest thing is turning up. The same goes for work – it’s easy to put off the tasks that look difficult and start with the easy ones. Don’t. Starting with difficult tasks means you have more time to do them well and to clear the way for the easy jobs later. Additionally, you have far more energy at the start of the day than at the end, so it makes sense to use that on things that are more difficult. ‘Difficult’, of course, is a personal thing. Often it means ‘dreaded’. That could be the admin, or writing an appraisal – or that report. The sense of dread will only build the longer you leave it, so face the fear, turn up, and get it done early.
5. Use a timer
If you want to be productive, think ‘tomato’. The ‘Pomodoro’ technique is a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and the technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student to break down work into 25-minute intervals. It means you get work done in manageable bursts, followed by a short break. Try it out:
1. Decide on the task to be done.
2. Set a timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
3. Work on the task.
4. Stop working when the timer rings and take a 3- to 5-minute break.
5. Start over.
6. After four sessions, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
6. Reduce distractions
Let’s face it, when we think of the many distractions that get in the way of our productivity, we usually look to blame others. In truth, we should take a long hard look at ourselves. Research suggests that we allow ourselves to get sidetracked up to 60 times a day by emails, messages and chat, 80% of which is unimportant. These interruptions can be reduced if you don’t try to resolve every request as it comes in. Batch checking emails at a specified time clears space to get into the flow of high-priority work. The same rule works for meetings; create regular meeting times when you’re available and don’t let others run your schedule. An app such as Workiro also lets you cut through message overload and turn asks into tasks – which means you can prioritise productivity over time-consuming email threads.
7. Improve workplace conditions
Reducing distractions is also about the physical environment in which you work. Having the right tools and equipment to do the job is a given, and so is creating an ergonomic workspace that promotes comfort and productivity. It’s also about your team’s working patterns. Whether you’re at home or in the office, long hours hunched over a computer increase fatigue. To re-energise, try walking around while you take a call, and opt for standing meetings – they’ll tend to be shorter and more productive. If your meeting is a one to one, walk around the block instead of booking a meeting room.
Remember, too, those ‘Eureka!’ moments rarely happen while staring cross-eyed at a screen. A lunchtime run, making a pot of coffee, or a relaxed session in a breakout space might all be better ways of finding inspiration. Encouraging flexibility in how and where your team works can also boost productivity, increase work satisfaction and reduce sick leave. With the range of workplace apps available to keep teams connected and engaged, wherever they are located, it’s never been easier to get creative when reimagining what it means to be at work.
8. Ensure your team is happy
A comfortable office space and the right kit to do the job are vital to improving team satisfaction levels, but top of the agenda is clear communication. Research has shown that 57% of employees feel they don’t receive clear directions, and 69% of managers aren’t comfortable communicating with employees – despite the fact that poor communication can lead to confusion, a lack of purpose and accountability, and a negative view of company culture. To improve this, use a variety of tools – Slack, Monday.com, Zoom, Workiro, or even WhatsApp – to keep lines of communication open, clear, specific, supportive, and productive.
9. Practise positive reinforcement
BF Skinner was an American psychologist and behaviourist who believed that the decisions we take and actions we make are dependent on the consequences of previous actions. When it comes to teams, Skinner’s reinforcement theory of motivation shows that, when an individual’s work is met with positive consequences, it’s more likely to be repeated. Basically, good work that is praised accordingly usually leads to more work worthy of being praised. As a team manager, therefore, it’s more than a good idea to build the possibility of success (see Commandment 2) into every project brief. Success is a reward in itself, but add a little spontaneous praise into the mix and that positive reinforcement becomes a source of motivation for every team member.
10. Create a virtuous circle
OK, some day-to-day workplace tasks aren’t ever going to be exciting in themselves. All the more reason, then, to use a tool such as Workiro to create templates and task lists for regular or repeating work, and to send reminders, to dispatch them quickly and efficiently. That leaves room for the good stuff.
So what makes a job exciting? Purpose. Impact. Creativity. Collaboration. Reward. These all combine to build a positive work culture, which feeds straight back into productivity to create a virtuous circle. Get Commandments 1 to 9 right, and this virtuous circle could be yours.
Learn how to be more productive by watching our free online masterclass on Taking Control of your Email.