What does it take to increase a team’s productivity? It’s a question everyone’s been asking and analyzing for years. And there has certainly been no shortage of answers. Everything from the promise of new technologies to the benefits of ample time off has been suggested as quick and lasting fixes for our productivity woes. Despite this, however, many of us still find ourselves wondering how we can get more out of our employees.
Part of the reason may be because the problem of productivity holds so much allure. Unlike other strategies of strengthening the bottom line, like adding on employees or extending overtime, increasing productivity doesn’t have to cost anything. It can be as simple as shifting a mindset or providing the proper motivation. Plus, there’s the fact that the productivity problem can never actually be solved. People feel like there’s always something else they can do, which means there will always be more solutions.
It can get overwhelming. So let’s take a step back and consider what it really means to improve team productivity before breaking down some proven and well-worn tactics.
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What is team productivity?
Team productivity can be defined as the collective performance or production of individuals working together as a team to achieve specific objectives or goals.
While there is no one way to measure it, the productivity of a team will typically be assessed by how efficiently they use their resources and skills within a specific amount of time. Although profit and revenue are often tied to productivity, the concepts are distinct. Rather than measuring an end result, productivity reflects the effectiveness of business policies and procedures.
Grasping the significance of team productivity
Because it has become so intertwined with success, the importance of measuring and improving team productivity is often taken for granted. Although increased profitability and achieving goals are central, the reasons behind the push for better productivity can also be much more nuanced. Understanding these reasons—and the significance behind better team productivity as a whole—can help shape your strategies for improvement.
Here are a few additional reasons why you may want to start looking at ways to boost productivity in your team:
- Clarify your strengths and weaknesses: Chances are, as you start looking closely at how your team gets work done, you’ll be able to pick out what they do well and what still needs work. This kind of self-reflection can be an incredibly valuable way to improve not only productivity but also morale.
- Tighten up resource management: Productivity and efficiency go hand in hand. The more productive you can get your team, the better they’ll be at accomplishing tasks and projects with less time, money, and manpower. This makes it possible to save money and to reallocate resources where they’re needed most.
- Get your employees more engaged: Productivity and employee engagement exist in a virtuous cycle. Employees will become more engaged with their work when they are empowered to get more done. And if your employees are more engaged, it’s more than likely they’ll also be more productive. It’s all about giving them a sense of purpose and a feeling of success.
- Make your team more adaptable: As you make your team more productive and efficient, you’ll also be improving their ability to quickly adapt and remain resilient in the face of change. They’ll have more skills to lean on, better methods of communicating, and fewer processes slowing them down. All this will help them respond to shifting market conditions, emerging challenges, and other unexpected disruptions.
- Develop individual employees: More often than not, productive teams are possible because of skilled employees. That means productivity improvements often come with increased opportunities for team members to develop their skills and advance their careers. They’ll be able to both expand their knowledge and benefit the wider team.
11 proven tactics that increase team productivity
There’s no one way that will improve productivity in your team. In fact, even if you find one strategy initially successful, you may soon discover that new factors are once again hurting your productivity. Just like business itself, productivity can ebb and flow, sometimes for reasons entirely unknown. That’s why it’s good to approach productivity improvement without a specific goal in mind. Think of it as a process of continual management that involves using many different tactics, often at the same time.
The following are a few that teams of all sizes and across industries have been able to consistently rely on.
1. Clear goal setting
It’s hard to be productive if your team isn’t sure what it should even do. By setting clear goals and ensuring every team member understands their role in achieving them, you can take a significant first step toward improving productivity. When drawing up your goals, consider following the SMART framework by making them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This will help ensure clarity as you build a roadmap toward a better functioning and more streamlined team.
2. Effective communication
Because you’re trying to improve productivity across a collective of employees, rather than just individuals, you need to prioritize how they communicate. Try to first identify any places where you think communication could be better. Are your email threads getting cumbersome? Do people come to you with questions after each meeting? Agree on the communication pathways your team prefers using for different tasks (for instance, a chat platform like Slack might work better than email), along with a cadence for communication (weekly team meetings may help clear up ambiguities). Along the way, encourage open and transparent communication.
3. Appropriate tools & technology
It doesn’t matter what industry you work in—if your team doesn’t have the right tools to collaborate and manage their projects, their productivity will suffer. As a baseline, everyone should have access to the technology they need to do their jobs. Check in with your team regularly to ensure this is the case, and encourage them to speak up if they need something else. Beyond this, there are many additional tools you can use to streamline workflows and organize tasks. For example, you could consider implementing a centralized project management system in order to organize your projects, or adopting a file-sharing system so that it’s easy to find, share, and collaborate on documents.
4. Skill development
The business landscape is constantly changing, which means your team’s productivity can easily fall if your employees aren’t continuously learning and enhancing their skills. There are two main approaches you can take to skills development. You could conduct skills gap analyses yourself, then invest in training programs you think would most benefit your team. Or you could regularly check in with your employees and ask them about their personal development goals. Based on this, you could help them lean into their strengths and grow based on their interests—which can encourage them to work even harder.
5. Team-building activities
Increasing your team’s productivity can also be done by ensuring there are strong relationships and a healthy amount of trust between each member. And a good way to accomplish this is through team-building activities. Look for activities that are, first and foremost, fun, but also offer some kind of challenge to your team, such as group challenges or puzzles that involve collaboration. These are great ways to nurture problem-solving and camaraderie. They’ll also get people outside of their comfort zones, which is where they’ll reveal more of themselves and develop closer relationships, helping fuel workplace productivity later on.
6. Flexible working conditions
People once thought that, in order to maximize productivity, you had to put in place rigid schedules and long working hours. No more. Employee well-being has long been recognized as an essential aspect of productive workplaces. And one of the best ways to ensure this is by offering flexible working conditions. You can do this by allowing employees to work remotely or outside of normal office hours. This way, they can prioritize their personal lives and achieve a better work-life balance. The result will be employees who are more engaged and focused when they’re at work, as well as better team morale.
7. Recognition & rewards
Everyone likes to be recognized for their work. That’s why positive reinforcement, whether verbal or tangible, can be a great way to motivate your team and boost productivity. An easy place to start is by making note of employee contributions and calling them out for their efforts. You could try to focus on a single person during each meeting or institute a more formal employee recognition program to highlight their achievements. You could also use rewards to incentivize your team even more. Bonuses and extra time off are always welcome, but so are smaller rewards like a lunch out or a team party. Regardless, make sure you make this recognition a regular part of your team so that employees know you appreciate their work.
8. Regular feedback mechanisms
The ability to get consistent and honest feedback may be an underrated way to enhance team productivity. After all, productivity is often paired with encouragement, not criticism. But the best feedback doesn’t just point out the negative, it also gives employees an honest accounting of their performance that helps them grow. In this way, feedback is part of a larger trust-centric culture. By regularly getting constructive feedback on their work, employees will know they are supported, even when they fail. This will encourage them to learn from their mistakes, take risks, be creative, and work harder to get better at their jobs.
9. Optimal work environment
They say a clean and cozy house will make you calmer and more productive—and the same is true for your office. If your team members are working in a cramped and uncomfortable environment, then you can’t expect them to be doing their best work. Instead, look around for ways you can make their workspace as enjoyable as possible. This includes the physical, such as furniture, plants, private meeting rooms, and temperature, as well as the cultural, like gossip and unhealthy politics. As you do this, work closely with your team, regularly soliciting suggestions, making improvements, and checking in to see what else will help build a comfortable environment.
10. Task prioritization
Maybe your team’s productivity is advancing nicely. They’re knocking out tasks, collaborating with each other, and meeting project goals. But then the workload increases and everything falls apart. No one knows what they should be focusing on. If this happens, you can help bring your team’s productivity back in line by helping prioritize their tasks. You can do this in several ways. For instance, you could rank tasks by urgency or significance to the company. Alternatively, you could rely on some kind of grading system to determine priorities, such as a task’s value versus the effort it would take to complete it. Doing this can help create some much-needed clarity for your team.
11. Conflict resolution
Few things will throw a wrench into your well-oiled team like a dispute. That’s why, if you want your employees to be as productive as they can be, you’ll need an effective system for resolving conflict. You should have a framework in place that allows both parties to openly share their viewpoints and work together to come up with a solution. If they can’t do this on their own, then have a third person come in who can actively listen to both sides, encourage an open dialogue, and find a resolution that’s mutually beneficial. Solving disputes effectively will not only keep the work moving forward, but also help foster a more positive and constructive workplace.
Recapping the importance of team productivity
We now have access to incredibly powerful tools and technology, mountains of literature on how to structure work streams and build effective project management frameworks, and the decades of collective experience many of our employees have from working in the trenches. Yet we’re still obsessed with the pursuit of productivity. And as long as there are more profits to be made, that probably won’t stop—but more teams are now realizing that the real significance of improved productivity isn’t necessarily its result, but the process itself.
By simply focusing on helping your team work more effectively and efficiently, you’ll be able to reap a host of other benefits. For instance, as you assess where your team can improve, you’ll be better able to identify their greatest assets and weaknesses. As you look into ways to enhance collaboration, you’ll be better positioned to improve how your team communicates and makes use of its resources. And as you streamline your team and make them more productive, you’ll set them up to be even more flexible in the face of future change.