So I’ve been asked to look at some questions and give you some of my thoughts and experiences from my day to day job as a business coach and consultant about what I’ve come across. So the first question is, how do you increase productivity in teams?
What is team productivity?
How do you increase productivity in teams?, seems like a very easy, relevant question to start with. However, I think one of the first things I’d do is say, how do we define the ‘team’ that we’re actually talking about?
This is important, because when people say, can you come in and work with my team?
I say, well, yes, but who’s involved in your team?
I get them to actually break it down, because most organisations have teams within teams.
“I think if we’re looking to increase productivity, we also have to define what productivity is.”
Obviously the other thing that’s important when we’re talking about increasing team productivity is knowing, what is ‘productivity’?
Is that in the short term, the median term, or is it something we expect to sustain over time? Because we can’t keep increasing productivity exponentially.
So I think if you start with a definition of what we think productivity is, where we think we’re at, we might be the most productive team going already.
You’ve got to start with the definitions. For me one of the best definitions I’ve ever come across for a team was in The Wisdom of Teams book; it described a team as a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose with a clear set of performance outcomes and mutual accountability.
I think if I’m looking to increase productivity I can take any of those areas and start to think about them. I’m going to look at what skills do I have in the team already? Who’s involved in that team? Does the team know why they’re involved and what they’re aiming at?
How do we set performance goals in a team?
“If I’m looking at creating a clear set of performance goals, I would ask that team to write down on a sheet of paper what they believe that they’re aiming for. “
So I might ask them, what would success look or sound or feel like to them? The interesting thing is, if I’ve got 12 people in the team, some of them might know the general direction they’re heading in, but the vast majority of them will give me something that they are interested in and they will describe success very differently indeed. That sets up a problem for us if everybody is going off in a slightly different direction.
“The team needs to understand why I want them to do something. “
Have I explained things to them so that they’ve got that understanding? Make sure they know it’s not just about delivering an outcome for the boss because he’s asked you to do it or she’s asked you to do it, make sure you’re actually saying, actually, there’s been a change in the marketplace so our customers require us to operate differently. Maybe there’s also a challenge there or a question, in that we could actually ask the team, how do they think they can improve productivity?
It’s about finding a leadership style where if you ask that question, you are engaging people and you really do want to listen to their answers.
How do you measure the impact of productivity in a team and ensure you’re achieving your goals?
Then I’m going to look at how we measure productivity and how we then go about ensuring that we’ve actually achieved our goals and that we’ve got mutual accountability.
So there’d be a variety of different parameters that I’d look to bring into that. Google did a fantastic piece of work called Project Aristotle.
What they discovered within their teams is that it wasn’t gender, it wasn’t IQ, it wasn’t age ranges, that determined the success of teams; one of the number one elements involved in high performing teams was something that they termed psychological safety. Psychological safety was the opportunity for someone in a team to stop and just say, I’m not sure what’s going on, or, I’m a bit stuck, or, could we just go back over this?
“The problem sometimes is that teams are in such a rush to be more productive that they start stumbling because they’re not taking the time to stop and rest. “
It’s the same with say, an athlete. If an athlete wants to perform, they don’t just train all the time. They need to balance that training with resting as well, because it’s the rest which is going to give them the opportunity to train further and faster and increase their performance. As simple as it sounds, many times teams don’t have the correct measures in place for that.
So have a measure. If we introduce that measure to the team and we ask some questions about it, the team will have probably more experience than you as a manager about how to increase those opportunities for productivity.
How do you motivate a team to be more productive?
At some point we might offer people an incentive such as money, and that works to a certain extent. If you want to have a real good overview on that, look at work by Dan Pink. He’s got a great graphically facilitated video called, “Drive, what motivates us”, you’ll find it on YouTube, it’s about eight minutes long, and it explores the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
So intrinsic is an internal motivator. We might be motivated to increase productivity because we take pride in our job. Some other people might go, pride? Listen up, pay me! If you want more productivity, pay me more!
“At a certain point, it doesn’t matter what we get paid, we want to go to bed, we want to take a day off. So money will only take us so far.”
I think it’s a case of, have you sat down and looked at what is driving your team and what they are striving towards? Because if you can get that balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, that can help increase productivity.
Some people, especially in the times that we’re living in at the moment where we’ve got increased inflation, might have a bit of fear around that, around being productive enough to impress and keep their job, we’ve got to think about basic psychological makeup.
We might think of something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a model that’s been around a long time, some managers have been exposed to it, others haven’t. At the bottom level of the pyramid, what Maslow talked about is, if you are feeling unwell, if you don’t have basic access to shelter, warmth and food, then you are not going to move up the levels.
“Many times, when we’re looking at increasing productivity, we want to get people to an exalted state or to move them beyond, but if you’ve got members in your team who are worried about losing their job, worried about losing their income, then they are not going to be as productive because they’re scared, and when people are scared, they’re not going to be as productive as possible, or they over produce at the expense of quality because they’re trying to overcompensate.”
For me, it’s actually about beginning to sit down and think, as a manager, what’s the outcome I want? How do I know that success has been achieved and how am I going to be able to drive the team to deliver this increased productivity?
As a manager, it’s not always about you coming up with the answers, it’s thinking about the context, the social context, the biological context, and the context of the individuals you are dealing with and about what they can give and what they can contribute and finally it’s about making sure all of those parts of the team come together.
Think about introducing those parts in a way that responds to the way that we’re hardwired as humans to be able to move forward.
“Take advantage of basic neuroscience and basic psychology. “
I think people overcomplicate it and they get a bit stuck and they forget the things that really make a difference. Be human. Do something nice for the team and they tend to respond. They will do so because humans are hardwired.
So if I give them something, maybe I give them some free tea and coffee, they’ll work harder.
Because of reciprocity.
They feel obliged because we’re social animals. If I do something for them, they feel obliged to do something for me. We have to be careful how we use that though so it’s not manipulation.
But if we can control the environment and the conditions, we can make the team more productive by making them more happy, making them more satisfied, and making them feel better that they’ve started something and they’ve ended it.