A team of skilled professionals can be likened to a highly tuned performance car. Just one or two things wrong can cause the output to drop dramatically. I have seen a team of ten perfectly capable people be less productive than a single person, and I have also seen larger teams come together and create truly amazing things. So what makes a highly productive team and what can cause the productivity of a team to fall like a lead balloon? Here are my top five tips for leaders who want to ensure that their teams are firing on all cylinders:
1. Ensure outcomes, goals and roles are clearly defined
It should go without saying, but in my experience, the reason most projects fail to complete on time is either because the outcomes of a project are not clearly stated or communicated up front or because not enough effort was spent scoping the size of each goal. Every member of the team needs to be absolutely clear what the goals are, and what defines a successful outcome. Team members should be involved in helping scope out larger goals and breaking them down into smaller chunks of work to ensure that the goals are achievable and that all team members "buy in" to the expected outcomes.
Team productivity increases when roles are clearly defined. When roles are not defined correctly or communicated well, valuable time can be wasted as team members jockey for their positions within the team, with conflict and inefficiency inevitable.
2. Find ways to grow Employee Engagement
It is a well researched fact that increased employee engagement leads to a more productive team. It's a concept we're running with very strongly at Workteam, where our focus is on developing solutions to help increase engagement across an organization. When a team is working together on a specific goal, productivity generally increases when the path to achieving the goal is not strictly laid out. If a team sees that some creativity is required to figure out the best way to achieve a goal, it will increase the overall engagement within the team. Take away any creative element of a task and engagement will often drop, along with productivity.
3. Encourage and facilitate communication
One of the reasons why a single person can be as productive as an entire team for a particular task is because the person working on their own has no dependencies on others (assuming that the person is capable of doing all aspects of the task). Dependencies on other team members is one of the top reasons for inefficiencies within the team, so it is vital that any dependencies get resolved as quickly as possible and effective communication is the way to achieve this. Forward thinking teams are starting to use tools to help improve communication, such as Slack, a team based messaging solution, where instant responses to questions are expected and decisions can be recorded and the history of conversations may be searched. Facilitating communication is particularly important across virtual teams split across different geos- a common scenario these days - where face to face interactions are difficult.
4. Choose managers wisely
Managers come in all shapes and sizes but one way to categorise them is by those that are task-oriented and those that are relationship-oriented. Task oriented managers are those able to define goals unambiguously and communicate clearly the responsibilities of individual team members to achieve the required outcomes expected from the team. Relationship-oriented managers are strong mentors, who are skilled at motivating and coaching their teams. Research has shown that the leaders most likely to foster highly productive teams are those that can exhibit both task-oriented and relationship-oriented traits and, more importantly, who can adapt their leadership styles to exhibit task-oriented traits at the beginning of a project and then change to exhibit relationship-oriented traits as the project progresses.
5. Teach teams how to behave like teams
For teams to perform well together, they need the skills necessary to interact within a team. Every team member should know the basics of effective collaboration; including a variety of communication and relationship skills so that they are able to put forward their ideas, listen to other ideas and be respectful of others' viewpoints as well as knowing how to resolve conflicts effectively. Educating a team takes time and costs money, but in my experience, the most effective outcomes are when teams go through the learning process together. This in itself encourages team members to see the potential weaknesses in their teams and identify the potential solutions, whilst fostering better relationships with their colleagues.
I'm interested to hear your experiences around team productivity and the things that have worked well to boost the productivity of your teams.
Simon Bates is CEO of Workteam, an HR Management System for businesses of all sizes with a focus on growing employee engagement. Visit http://workte.am to find out how it can benefit your organization.