The relatively stable unemployment numbers in the U.S. suggest that the worst of the layoffs have passed, but companies are reluctant to hire. For those of you looking for work, this has to be incredibly discouraging. I’ve been there, so you have my compassion. But those who have jobs find little solace in the numbers either. Team managers and members are being asked to meet slowly increasing demand without more help: in short, to do more with the same.
I can’t help the job seekers. In fact, I reluctantly admit today’s post runs counter to their aims. It intends to help the other folks by increasing their group productivity, which I’ll define as “output quantity at a given level of quality per operating dollar.” The goal is to help a group attain the:
Scientific consensus and workplace results say the way to do this is to put a formal teamwork structure in place. In contrast, let me describe the typical well-functioning team in American organizations based on my direct observations, readings, and talks with workers.
Team meetings are fairly informal, starting with a round of status reports from the leader and members, and focused on discussions about current problems and decisions about who is going to do what to fix each. Those discussions are open and usually respectful, and the leader often goes along with the team, though everyone understands the decision is his or hers to make. Deadlines may or may not be set, and those agreements are not written down except maybe by the assignees. Heated discussions break out on occasion, but don’t turn personal, at least in the meeting. The team’s processes are not documented, or if they are, they are outdated, not followed, and rarely referenced in discussions. Primary tasks are handed down from higher in the hierarchy with little or no input from the team, which pushes back on some tasks to mixed results. Those tasks and deadlines change for what seem like arbitrary reasons, and the team misses a significant percentage partly due to unrealistic expectations from above. The team’s work output and quality is not measured in any objective way. People grumble about upper management often. The members gripe less about the team leader, whom they consider a good boss though with a major flaw or two they’ve learned to live with. Stress and overwork are regular complaints from most members. No one has been fired in years, possibly including one or two the others think should have been. People move on to other jobs or teams at a rate of 10% to 20% per year.
Notice I said this is the typical “well-functioning” team. If you’re there, congratulations, you’re well ahead of the average team. But you are at least 20% less productive than you could be, and could possibly double your productivity based on my results in working with similar teams. No, I'm not exaggerating.
The biggest block to achieving the productivity goals above is human bias. By that I mean the rules of thumb and information filters all humans use as shortcuts in our decision-making (see my post, "Putting People Back into Operations Management"). Because of these, many team leaders reading this post think, “My team is doing okay.” That may be true—or your subconscious mind may be fooling you. Even if your conscious mind is right, is “okay” good enough for you?
Answer these questions from The SuddenTeams™ Expert System (free on this site), but don’t click the links yet unless you need a definition. Does the team have:
If you answered “no” even once, you have identified a means for productivity growth. Follow the “No” link and you will eventually find steps to address that situation.
The second-biggest block to top productivity is the argument, “We don’t have time for all that.” But you are already spending that time. Holding current output steady, if you could cut the labor hours required by just 5%, you are currently wasting 104 hours per person (2,078 labor-hours per year X 5%). In my work, I literally guarantee that implementing any one of the missing items from the list above will increase efficiency enough to cover my fees, because such a small change in output or costs is required. You can easily implement any of these on your own in less than the 2-1/2 weeks of labor time you would otherwise waste this year, and the savings will continue in future years.
Do you put money into an IRA or 401(k)? Why? You could be having so much more fun with that money. Buy a boat. Buy a goat.
Instead, you discipline yourself to take away from your immediate happiness because you know it will pay off later. That means you already recognize the value of sacrificing a little time or money now to make things better in the future. All I’m asking is for you to apply the same concept to your work, for your sake, for your teammates, and for your stakeholders.
Action Item: At your next meeting, go through the list of questions above as a team. For any item to which at least a third of the members answer “No,” take the steps recommended by the Expert System. If no item reaches that standard, be the first team to contact me, and I will perform a four-hour SuddenTeams Assessment at no charge other than modest travel expenses—a $600 value—to diagnose anything the team can do to improve. If you want, I'll even document the visit here.