8 ways you can improve the productivity of your team

by Rob Rawson
team productivity

Have you ever noticed how two people can be radically different in their level of productivity? One person can produce two or three times the results in the same time frame?

Even if you and your team are highly productive there is always room for improvement. Here are some tips on how to make it happen:

Eliminate back and forth discussion over email

If you find that you’re discussing important points back and forth via email that’s a warning sign that you need to change your communication process. Email is not effective for back and forth communication because:

  • Email formatting results in messy discussions that are hard to follow.
  • Email discussions can’t be organized effectively. Categorizing, sharing, and searching through past email discussions is difficult.
  • Email can slow down communication (a back & forth conversation that might take days by email due to the delay between responses might take just minutes on the phone or in person).

One alternative to email is to schedule a meeting once per week to cover all of these complex issues. Another solution is to get everyone to use software such as Asana as an alternative to email.

Develop a culture of prioritization

Productivity is not about completing all of your tasks. It’s about completing the most important tasks. A critical skill to develop for everyone in your company is prioritization. Making sure that everyone on the team is focused on their important tasks first and actively “procrastinate” any tasks that are less important.

Develop standard procedures for anything that takes a lot of time

Find yourself explaining something twice? Develop simple training videos on YouTube to provide this information.

Processes are not just for training – they can be for any type of activity in your business that you do over and over. Many businesses rely on informal or ad-hoc processes which are stored only in the brains of staff members not written down. However you will not get the benefits of systems and procedures until you write them down.

A key reason it’s so important to develop written systems and processes is because it will help you to identify where there are weaknesses in your business activities. You can’t see the problems unless you first standardize how you do everything. Then you can identify problem areas and gradually improve each process over time.

Examine your procedures to see which steps you can eliminate

After you’ve created systems and procedures, the next step is to simplify them and make them easier to follow. Is there any procedure you’re following that is unnecessary? For example are you spending time emailing documents from one person to another? Or is someone in your team copying information from one spreadsheet into another spreadsheet? These are simple examples of inefficient activities that can be eliminated with an improved process. Look to see which steps you can replace with technology and automation. There might be a process that you are currently handling manually, but with the right technology could be automated and save your team members a lot of time.

Set up a quiet environment, free from interruptions

For certain types of work such as software development it is proven that a quiet environment increases concentration levels and productivity. If you can’t change the physical environment, you can give your team members noise-cancelling headphones to improve their concentration!

Eliminate distracting elements on each person’s computer

There are so many things that can distract team members during their day. They can get distracted by meetings, phone calls or noise in their environment. All of these distractions need to be eliminated as much as possible.

One type of distraction that is often ignored is distracting elements on the computer. For example: Does your team have constant notifications from chat programs such as Skype when new people come online? Are there sounds or notifications for new email messages? These cause momentary distractions during the day. They might not seem like much at the time, but when you add them up they distract and disrupt a person’s workflow and the cumulative effect can be significant.

Track the exact time for every activity in the business

This is a controversial one for some, but if you think about it, it makes intuitive sense. If you want to improve something, you need to measure it. How do you measure productivity? One way is that you can record the exact time spent on each activity in your organization and find out exactly how long it takes to complete individual tasks.

Almost every company records their financial flows – where their money is earned and spent. Most factories measure the output of assembly line workers. However it’s not general practice to measure where knowledge workers spend their time. Some companies do have this as a standard practice – for example at IBM they measure with accuracy where each person spends each minute of the day.

Reduce or eliminate “got a minute” meetings

Have you ever had the experience of someone in the office saying, “Have you just got a minute, can I run this by you?”. While it may seem like a critical question to the person who is asking for your time these “got a minute” meetings can become very unproductive. For a start they are never just a minute. You usually end up continuing to chat about different topics until 30 minutes or perhaps notice that an entire hour has passed. So the quick discussion that was supposed to take a minute ends up taking a whole lot more time.

How can you eliminate these meetings? Replace them with a scheduled weekly one hour team meeting. During the week you save up questions and note them down, and get ready to discuss them in the weekly meeting.

You can also reduce the time spent on these “got a minute” meetings by making a rule that any unscheduled meetings are standing up only (rather than sitting down in a meeting room). Only scheduled weekly meetings are held sitting down in the conference room.

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