By Tracy Vides
We’ve all looked at companies like Google and Facebook and envied them secretly for their fabulous looking offices, employees who seem super motivated all the time, and products that are world beaters. As managers, we may not have much control over how our offices look or whether every product that rolls out the door is a smash hit; however, we do have control over how our employees feel at the workplace.
Here are some simple changes that go a long way towards making your employees a tad less hassled and a lot more productive.
1. Cut Those Unnecessary Meetings
It’s the bane of modern corporate life. Calling meetings and spending the better part of the day inside conference rooms while work keeps piling up on your desk is a common lament we all hear. A recent study found that 59% of all respondents polled found endless meetings to be a major cause of their wasted time at work.
Avoid unnecessary meetings like those completely pointless ‘FYI’ type meetings. Or meetings that do not directly involve each person attending it. If you do have to meet, limit your meeting time to a maximum of 30 minutes. Anything longer than that and your team’s minds will be elsewhere and you’ll not achieve anything concrete from the meeting.
To make your team a lean mean productive unit, use meetings for three clear purposes:
- Decision making
- Team reviews and future planning
For everything else, just stick to your collaboration tools and email.
2. Tame the Email Monster
Speaking of email, that is another huge time killer in office environments. As you read this post, over 200 billion emails have been sent out just today. No wonder intra-team emails comprise one line additions, irrelevant comments, or long winded summaries of earlier emails that effectively add zero value to the final recipients.
A good way to avoid drowning in emails is to institute a policy within your team of keeping emails brief and to the point. Avoid running over three to four sentences in one email to avoid losing the reader’s interest. For feedback on a project or communication regarding tasks, rely on an instant messenger such as HipChat or Convo, or other dedicated tools.
To avoid being overwhelmed by all the email you receive, make it a point to first focus on your immediate priorities. Check email once every few hours, ideally when you take a break from your own to-do list.
3. Empower Cross-Functional Collaboration
A key step in leadership development is to widen the perspectives of your next-gen leaders. Typically, most employees have linear growth trajectories in organizations, where they specialize in one particular function, like marketing, product development, finance, and so on. Their understanding and comfort levels with other functions is often woefully inadequate.
Living with a situation where you only have employees who are super specialized in their own fields is a recipe for succession disaster. Often, people get stuck in an unimaginative quagmire purely due to the lack of a fresh perspective. When the same problem is viewed by a new pair of eyes, solutions surface unexpectedly. An effective leader needs an overall understanding of the business with keen, unbiased insights into what makes the company tick and what are its pain points.
As W. Earl Sasser from the Harvard Business School puts it,
“Expertise in only one area — think John Sculley’s unsuccessful jump from Pepsi consumer marketing to the top of Apple — can be a handicap.”
Therefore, it’s no surprise that cross-functional collaboration that is all the rage these days. And for good reason too. A study conducted by Teresa Amabile from the Harvard Business School on corporate employees across seven companies, shows that a collaborative environment where employees work together without being pitted against each other works best for creative thinking.
Many organizations are so committed to this concept of cross functional collaboration that they build it into their office design. Katherine Vong writes about the tech startup The Flagship, which created a centrally located Piazza (town square) in the office, aiming to encourage conversations and cross-pollination of ideas across teams that wouldn’t usually have interacted with each other.
To begin with, offer your future stars exposure to other aspects of the business than what they have handled so far. Let them spend considerable amount of time learning and getting their hands dirty in new functions. This multi-functional exposure broadens their perspective, preparing them for a more strategic role in the future. Also invest in a collaboration tool like Wrike or Grexit. Such tools allow you to brainstorm ideas, assign responsibility, and annotate or comment on work completed by a team member at your own pace and from the convenience of your Gmail inbox, without the wastefulness of calling multiple meetings.
4. Create SOPs
It’s a common refrain. Too many teams reinvent the wheel with every project that they undertake. In the absence of a documented ‘right’ way to accomplish a task, every employee will try and devise a solution to problems similar to ones that have been solved multiple times before, leading to a lot of wasted unproductive time.
Counter wasting time on unnecessary, repetitive work by developing clear Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for common tasks that your team handles. Train your team members in becoming experts at this standard procedure, so that they can function a lot more efficiently when they next come up against a similar issue. Don’t know how to create a SOP for your team? David Grusenmeyer of Cornell University offers a scientific approach to writing the perfect SOP for your team.
5. Make Deadlines Stick
I love a relaxed work environment. However too much of a good thing can be bad for you too. Procrastination is a huge efficiency killer among teams, especially teams where bosses keep pushing the deadlines on projects in order to seem more employee friendly. I am not suggesting that your team throw flexibility out the window.
However, if your team realizes that deadlines can be extended all the time and for indefinite periods, they stop taking deadlines seriously. Which means your team’s productivity suffers and unsavory consequences follow.
Avoid all this nastiness by being clear that deadlines on various tasks are not negotiable. Your team needs to realize that a deadline that is announced is meant to be respected and will not change unless under very, very exceptional circumstances.
6. Bid Goodbye to Silos
While we hear of too many meetings being called that waste everyone’s time, we also see a large majority of workers carrying out their tasks in complete isolation, all by themselves. Independence is a great trait to have, but most office tasks are not new and have been done by someone before. Approaching a teammate for assistance on a task they probably have handled before is a great way to cut delivery timelines and improve efficiencies.
The study quoted earlier found that 32% of workers believe that insufficient collaboration with their co-workers acts as an impediment to their own productivity.
As a manager, encourage your team to always have each other’s backs. The definition of a team itself is a group of individuals who come together to accomplish a goal. Go back to basics by inspiring your team to drop their blinders and reach out and help their fellow members whenever needed.
7. Speed Up Rewards & Recognition
I saved one of the biggest contributors to productivity for the very end.
Even the most talented and efficient employee will soon lose all drive and interest in his work if his results go unnoticed.
Most organizations pay lip service to rewards and recognition by having an annual R&R ceremony where one person is felicitated for a good job done. Trouble is, a team is not made up of just one person. Every member of a team puts in effort all year long, some of which catch the public eye and many which go unnoticed in the larger scheme of things. When sincere efforts and small victories go unheralded, over time, workers become less motivated to put in their very best.
Don’t let this despair set in within your team. That will be your team’s death knell. Instead, institute a program of regular and instant recognition to make your team members feel valued. It doesn’t have to be something big or formal. Even a congratulatory email (copied to senior management) to employees on a job well done makes them feel important and appreciated.
High productivity is a fruit that is ripened by a positive and motivating team atmosphere as much as by an individual’s own drive. Tell us how you encourage productivity within your team. I’d love to know!
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