How to super-charge team productivity  

Teams with sky-high productivity levels are the holy grail for any business.

How to super-charge team productivity

Teams with sky-high productivity levels are the holy grail for any business.  A huge part of achievement comes from outstanding leadership, but there are also more practical steps you can put into place.

My first attempt at increasing productivity many years ago was to reward output with financial incentives.  Initially, it worked well.   People worked hard and received their pay packets with huge smiles.  Or most of them did.  It didn’t take long for a few to start complaining about the system being “unfair.”    People began to resent the measuring systems, claiming they diminished trust.   Quickly, the weeks of happy highs when people saw financial benefits were replaced with surly resentment when they didn’t.   Yet incentives are undoubtedly part of the package of productivity.

Incentives give people a reason to do well, and while cash has its place, it is only a part of that.  Not everyone is motivated by money.   Time off is becoming increasingly, if not more, popular as a reward.    Let the team draw up a central list of suggestions so that people can choose something they really want.

Saying thank you is crucial.   Different personalities respond to this in different ways.  Some will appreciate being lauded in public, while others prefer a private thank you.  Learning that difference in your people is essential, as is them knowing their hard work is recognized.

Regular all-around feedback is crucial to increasing productivity.  It follows that people can only strive to improve if they know how they are doing in the first place.  However, if people are told how they are doing, they tend to resent it.  If a manager uses coaching skills and encourages them to see how they are doing for themselves, they are more likely to want to recognize their weaknesses and improve.  Regular whole-team feedback and discussion on what went right and what went wrong also adds to increased productivity.   But the skill of making people feel safe to admit fallibility and enabling them to grow takes learning.  And, remember that feedback should always work both ways.  It is an opportunity for everyone to develop.

To help people feel able to develop means a robust training and development programme – again, not one that management instructs people to go on, but one they chose to create because they want to improve a skill or because of where they want their career to go.  The more they feel they are developing, the less likely people are to leave.  But equally, if you are increasing their skills, so should their productivity increase.   Supporting their well-being is also crucial to making people feel valued and want to do well.  

Directional leadership is out.  Instead, flexibility that gives ownership to the team is now known to improve productivity.   In many companies, this came with the introduction of home working and more managers ceasing assessing people on hours worked in favour of leaving them to work when suited and looking at what was achieved.   For companies retaining a workspace, this increasingly means giving the team the freedom to decorate how they want.   People perform better in an environment they feel at home in.

But just as with the coaching style on feedback that encourages people to take responsibility for their own wins and failures, so it is crucial that for people to be productive, micro-management has to go.   People need to feel they can come up with their own ways of contributing to the goals.    Micro-management is one of the biggest killers of productivity.   No one derives any joy from working for someone who picks their work apart and imposes their way of doing things.  If someone has a specific skill, stand back and let them use it.  Correction to impose your will is a gargantuan waste of everyone’s time and completely demoralizes the employee involved.

Micro-managers also tend to be incredibly poor communicators, sometimes even failing to set out the vision, let alone inspiring anyone to follow it.  People need goals and know the “why” of what they are doing.   Part of incentivization comes from knowing and enabling people to see how their contribution contributes to the goals and vision.  Micro-management concentrate on a hundred mini-goals, which no one can remember.   Give a team three to five clear goals they can see the point of within the big picture, and you get buy-in.   People see what is needed and why and what they can contribute.   Above all, ensure those goals are realistic and on a set timeline.   Saying to people “do your best” ceases to be inspiring very quickly.  Focussing on what everyone agrees needs to be achieved by the end of the month is productive.

Communication has to be daylight-clear on the goals and where the team is on achieving them.   That means a great project management system, with effective team communication of those goals and their relevance to the overall vision.  Then people see both what they are doing and what it will achieve.   And avoid passion-killing meetings for meetings’ sake.   Short, on-point meetings with relevant people, only when necessary and with a pre-set outcome, are a better use of time.

A manager’s job is a facilitator’s job, which should focus on supporting and encouraging the team.   People want to do well when it is relevant to them when they are empowered to do so, and when they are inspired by what doing well is going to achieve.  And if they want to do well, then you have ever-increasing productivity.

Jan Cavelle
Jan Cavelle

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