Imagine this. You have to send a small team of human beings on a rocket ship and send it to another planet in the Universe, do analysis, and bring them back to Earth safely. All this while managing a sensitive budget overlooked by governments, coordinating the efforts of a huge team, and attaining objectives of the mission.
This is what NASA keeps doing day in and out all throughout the year. There is no organization in the world that can credit itself for managing team productivity like NASA. They set an example for the rest of the world.
Now, we understand our missions are not so critical as putting rockets in space. However, team productivity is as important to your organization as it is to NASA. It is the basic building piece of growth.
Can an ordinary organization attempt to achieve extraordinary workplace and team productivity? There are specific ways that can help with that. Here are some:
Ways to optimize your workplace and team productivity
- Conduct weekly sync-ups
- Use virtual hangouts for off-topic conversations
- Have a pre-built onboarding documentation
- Equip employees with the right tools
- Use a Kanban system
- Set quarterly OKRs
- Run sprints
- Create a unique reward & recognition system
- Preempt burnout
1) Conduct weekly sync-ups
One of the hindrances in team productivity is the lack of transparency. Team members usually are unaware of the goals that their peers are chasing, how it fits into the bigger organizational picture, and how it impacts their work. This is especially true in a remote team setup where face-to-face interaction is non-existent.
One way to solve it is to conduct weekly sync-ups. Weekly sync-ups are the replacement for the daily stand-up meetings that are common occurrences in most teams. Instead of a daily stand-up meeting where little progress can be demonstrated, a weekly sync-up can make the discussion meaningful. It can also shed light on the roadblocks or challenges that individual team members could be facing that could be solved as a team. This leads to improved productivity in the workplace and among the team.
2) Use virtual hangouts for off-topic conversations
One of the aspects of teamwork that often goes underserved is off-topic conversations. Offtopic conversations are necessary for team bonding. They help bring to the surface what the individual is doing in their personal life for growth — like reading an interesting book, watching a documentary, doing a course, etc. It also creates the avenue for a healthy discussion on what they feel about the current happenings in the world and how it impacts them as an individual and as a team.
The purpose of offtopic conversations is to break the ice barrier that is often created amidst team members due to intense work conversations. Offtopic conversations can give an opportunity for everyone to understand each other better and thus become a well-rounded team that works, talks, or even plays together while getting things done.
3) Have a pre-built onboarding documentation
A constantly growing team will have new recruits joining the fold every now and then. When done at scale, onboarding is not an easy feat to pull. It may not be possible to onboard every new recruit as an individual. Amidst all the chaos, it is possible to miss critical onboarding steps that could disappoint the new recruit.
It is here that an onboarding document comes into play. An onboarding doc contains all the information that the new recruit ought to know when joining the team. It will contain details of email groups, contact of key team members, specifics of meetings, a list of tools or equipment for which credentials are to be requested, and so on.
The purpose of an onboarding document is to accelerate the pace at which the new recruit becomes an active member of the team. The sooner they are able to ramp up, the better it would be for the team to maximize its productivity with an additional team member.
4) Equip employees with the right tools
Tools maketh the craftsperson. Employees need the right software and tools to perform their duties without skipping a beat. Without the right set of tools, they will have to figure out workarounds that may take longer and might even affect productivity. For instance, if you want your support team to be more productive, one of the things you’ll have to do is equip them with the right helpdesk tool.
For a marketing team, the most important tools are
- CMS — to publish website content
- Social media scheduling tool — to build and manage social media presence
- CRM — to organize and streamline customer information
- Design collaboration tool — to help you visualize all your data with charts, graphs, interactive infographics and presentations
- Email marketing tool — to source leads and build customer relationships through emails
- Digital Asset Management tool — to host, organize, and protect all organizational digital assets under one roof.
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Of course, these are not the final list. These are the basic tools that are necessary and cannot be avoided. In fact, choosing the right tool itself takes serious consideration and a longer duration to decide. However, it is worth the time and effort exerted. After all, the right workflow tools have the potential to 10x your team’s productivity.
5) Use a Kanban system
Kanban in Japanese means signboard or billboard. It is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing that was first introduced by Taiichi Ohno in Toyota. It soon became popular as the go-to tool for maximizing team productivity, especially in large products with several moving parts.
The Kanban system uses a board that breaks down the entire process into several stages. At each stage, there are specific tasks to be completed. Each task is assigned a due date and specific personnel who have to own it. The project manager or the team leader gets an overall picture of the project progress and potential roadblocks that should be eliminated to keep the momentum going.
Most project management and team productivity software like Asana, Trello, etc. is based on the concept of Kanban. Needless to say, they are assured to maximize team productivity.
6) Set quarterly OKRs
OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. It was introduced by Andy Grove who is known as the "Father of OKRs" and who introduced the approach to Intel during his tenure there. OKRs aims to break down bigger long-term goals into smaller individual-based objectives and key results. They help in better measurement of the individual’s productivity and contribution to the team.
That said, it is not wise to set up weekly or monthly OKRs. it is too short a time frame to evaluate a person’s contribution. However, a quarter is a sufficient time frame to measure an individual’s contribution and the impact that comes with it. Also, OKRs are tied up to the bigger business goals. So, it also ensures that team efforts and productivity are directed towards a common goal than fuelled by individual agenda.
7) Run sprints
If your team is working towards a specific project with a stipulated timeline attached to it, the Agile project management methodology can help. Agile breaks down processes into short-term sprints. A sprint is a short, time-boxed period when a scrum team works to complete a set amount of work.
The benefit of running sprints is that it simplifies project management, allows teams to maintain a high quality of work, and also gives them ample flexibility to adapt to changing scenarios. In other words, it makes the team and its resources more fluidic and responsive to the project requirements.
There is another major advantage of following the Agile project management methodology. It empowers your team to focus on a single task and its outcome instead of being distracted by too many things at the same time. It brings intense focus to a challenge and its corresponding challenge which maximizes productivity.
8) Create a unique reward & recognition system
Every successful team needs constant motivation to keep their morale and productivity high. Rewards and recognitions have existed for decades to cater to that purpose. However, in modern times, they have taken a new avatar. Unlike the previous generation, millennial employees do not stick to the same employer for a long duration. Their loyalty is fickle and they keep switching jobs frequently. They tend to stay longer with employers who reward and recognize them in novel ways.
In the past, a job-well-done certificate could have been considered with high regard. Today, they are not even considered as a reward or recognition. Millennials want to be recognized in a tangible way that they exhibit to the world. Paid vacations, gadget gifts, sponsored education are some of the modern rewards and recognition that employees are looking for from prospective employers. To keep the productivity bar of your team soaring high, it is necessary to create a unique reward and recognition system that will keep your employees happy.
9) Preempt burnout
With more people working remotely, the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred. As a result, many people are working longer hours and staring at the computers endlessly. It's no surprise then that more employees are reporting that they feel burned out, and it's impacting their motivation and productivity.
Make sure you help your team avoid burnout. Take regular employee engagement surveys to understand how they're doing and collect any feedback. If you find that there are too many Zoom meetings and it’s impacting work, address it.
Working without a break can also cause your team to lose concentration. Encourage regular breaks, or even require them. Catching an employee playing a game should not be frowned upon. Classic office games like solitaire can help take the edge off so your employees can refocus. Taking a walk outside the office is another great way to destress.
The bottom line
Remember the NASA reference we made at the beginning. Space astronauts need a high level of collaboration and team coordination that goes beyond the known precincts of workplace collaboration. Of course, they have the right set of tools and also the practices that make them great at their job. Imagine what kind of positive impact it could create if every team could replicate that kind of best practice. Productivity will soar. Outcomes will increase 10x.
The first step is to bring together all employees up to speed on what is happening across the board and what needs to be done to accelerate output. Next, set up off-topic conversations to sustain team camaraderie to foster team bonding and cordial work relationships.
Equipping employees with the right set of tools is also equally important. It is a known fact that workplace optimization and managing employee productivity during distressing times is almost impossible. The right set of tools can ease the situation for employees. Similarly, remote teams need NASA-level planning and coordination to stay on track of deliverables. The kanban system can help with that.
They should be given OKRs so that they know which direction they are going and how effectively they are achieving the results set for themselves. Sprints have proven to be better alternatives than traditional workflows because they deliver better quality work at reduced costs and time span. In the end, do not forget to recognize and reward employees who are going the extra mile to make the team proud. An effective R&R system can motivate employees to deliver better results.
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