Employer Branding

The Leader’s Guide to Team Productivity

Imagine you have a team of skilled, talented, and educated professionals. Each team member has relevant training and experience, a good attitude, and a solid work ethic. They even get along with each other. And when all these pieces fall into place, they get results—they deliver high-quality projects on time and to spec.

The problem is the pieces don’t always fall into place.

One teammate promises to deliver and then doesn’t. He or she forgets deadlines, misses meetings, misplaces important communications, loses track of to-dos, then apologizes profusely for the inevitable blunders. One person’s fumbles send the whole team scrambling. The result is failed projects, frustrated teammates, and financial losses.

Sound familiar?

People come to the workplace with various skill sets and backgrounds. They know how to navigate applications, develop programs, design products, oversee communications, manage resources, devise strategies, or lead people, but few are versed in workflow management, and even fewer have been through formal training for it. Nobody gets a degree in productivity.

We recently asked 1,160 professionals to tell us how individual performance affects team productivity within their organizations. This is what they said.

  • 94% have at least one teammate who frequently misses deadlines.
  • 91% have at least one teammate who forgets tasks and appointments.
  • 85% have at least one teammate who appears busy but fails to complete tasks on time.
  • 91% have at least one teammate who spends too much time on unimportant tasks.

And 9 of 10 say when even one teammate commits any of these blunders, the team and organization suffer. Morale, trust, productivity, quality, customer service, and profitability decline.

People can have good intentions and rich technical backgrounds yet still overestimate their ability to manage workload. In fact, we’ve found that as a person’s roles and responsibilities increase, their productivity practices begin to fail them. In order for team members to thrive in a world of endless tasks and inputs, they must develop a few key productivity practices.

This is good news. By adopting just a few vital skills, team members can learn to execute effectively on time and inoculate themselves from mishaps and bungles. Here are a few skills teams can begin practicing today for increased effectiveness.

1. End with Action

At the end of every meeting, identify a clear next action and a plan for follow-up. Never settle for a vague course of action, such as “Let me work with this for a bit.” Instead, identify concrete next actions by specifying who will do what by when and who will follow up. This not only ensures projects move forward seamlessly but also reduces the need for future meetings.

2. Create a Capture Culture

One of the most important but widely overlooked productivity skills is that of capturing tasks, assignments, and ideas in a trusted tool, whether that be a notepad, calendar, or app. When team members consistently capture commitments, they not only are more apt to get work done on time, they also foster trust. When you capture an assignment following a discussion with your teammate, you communicate that you care. And when teammates see you capture tasks, their confidence in you increases.

3. Do the Right Stuff

There are three modes of work, and every team member should dedicate time for each.

  1. Define work: process inboxes, in-trays, or other requests and clarify inputs into next actions.
  2. Do predefined work: complete clarified tasks from calendars or to-do lists.
  3. Do undefined work: work on unplanned, irregular, or emergency tasks as necessary.

Without boundaries, people tend to spend their time on whatever is latest and loudest rather than on key priorities. Conversely, when team members dedicate blocks of time for each kind of work, and the team has a culture of respecting those boundaries, they complete critical projects and tasks.

4. Make It Okay to Say “No”

A “yes” mentality will backfire the minute your yes men have too much on their plate. Avoid dropped balls and missed deadlines by making it okay to renegotiate tasks or decline requests. But here’s the key: frame negotiations not as a complainer craving less but as a contributor craving focus. Instead of “no, I don’t have time for that,” communicate your desire to focus on the right priorities. Foster a culture where teammates seek real solutions rather than agree to every request out of a sense of obligation. Managers can praise this behavior to spur focus and engagement.

Workplace productivity is a team effort. To influence how team members do their work, organizations must intentionally create norms for how work is done. They can do this by equipping teams with proven productivity skills. When team members have a shared understanding of how to effectively manage workflow, they foster focus, trust, and accountability. Efficient productivity follows.

About the authors: Justin Hale is a speaker, training designer, and Master Trainer at VitalSmarts, a leader in corporate training. He has been a lead engineer in designing the VitalSmarts edition of Getting Things Done® Training and has facilitated the course and delivered keynote speeches on the skills and principles of stress-free productivity to clients and audiences across North America. Ryan Trimble is a lead writer at VitalSmarts. He works alongside the company’s authors and researchers to identify and publicize trends in workplace communication and human behavior.

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