Increasing team efficiency is one of the primary goals for every company. It's an objective of top executives and leaders around the world. However, raising team productivity is not an easy task. Grouping different types of people with different characters can often lead to clashes, miscommunication, and distractions that can impact the workplace productivity. This can kill your project. 🔪
Luckily, this is not a dead end situation. There are certain tricks and actions you can take to improve your team's performance. These actions will work regardless of the level of experience and differences in personalities of your teammates.
In this article, I will share my experience of working in different teams and give you some tips that increased our productivity. Keep in mind that these tips aren't silver bullets and not all of them may apply for your team or workplace, yet it will be useful to at least have them in mind.
So, without further ado, let's see why exactly team productivity matters.
Why Team Productivity Matters?
We have been taught that working hard pays off. Work more, get more. This saying became a paradigm of the new generation, but we started to alter its meaning and believe in it blindly.
Many people think that productivity is correlated with working more and that extra hours will lead to better results, yet this is the leading cause of stress and burnout. I see this behavior in many junior developers around me. They think that if they work non-stop, with no break or help, they will eventually deliver more. This may be true in the short term, but it is also detrimental for their long-term productivity. Ironically, this mentality is inherent to most management personnel. Such thinking can also bring the whole team happiness down.
Team happiness is today's vital topic in many companies, and they are investing in ways to measure their employee's satisfaction and searching for how to make them happier. There are numerous benefits of making team members happier - increased productivity, smaller possibility to change job, more energy and less sick leave to name a few. We will look at different ways of improving the team's happiness and moral later in the article, but we should first tackle another essential topic - cultural fit.
Why Cultural Fit Matters?
Cultural fit is best explained when you consider it within the context of your organization's culture and how your organization's culture is formed. A potential team member may express and display the values and characteristics that exist within the current organizational culture - or not. This is why the hiring process plays an important role when choosing a candidate.
When you bring someone new onto the team, you want that person to be a long-lasting, valuable employee within your company. We can always provide the resources to help employees get better at their job, but we can't teach someone to align with our cultural values. We want individuals who value people and who work well together. How to do that? - Define what culture means to you and say it out loud during interviews. Ask the right questions by incorporating open-ended questions encompassing the qualities your company most values. It's crucial that the candidates demonstrate their capabilities and values, but interviewers should clearly define the overall mission of your company.
Once you are sure that all members of the team are aligned, you can proceed with incorporating the various techniques for achieving high productivity and efficiency.
Tip #1 - Defining Achievable Goals
Goals need to increase productivity, but establishing the right ones can be difficult. They have to motivate the team, fit individual roles and be aligned with company objectives and most importantly - they need to be achievable.
Achievable goals put things in perspective. They ensure you and your team have the right focus and motivation. Achievable goals bring the rewarding feel to the team, but how can we define them?
🎯 First, goals need to be specific. This means that they need to be clear and easy to understand. Concentrate on everything that defines the goal, but nothing extra. This can be, for example, a big technical story, where you describe the whole flow, technical and business requirements and test cases, or a major company milestone, where your team is tasked to come up with a new company branding, which involves creating a new logo, changing the colors and fonts and reorganizing the content on the company website in a way, that focuses on showing the new company values.
💪 Second, goals need to be challenging. If we know that we can easily accomplish them, we are less likely to invest any creativity or innovation in accomplishing them. When goals are new to us, we can't be sure we will achieve them, but motivated by pride, fear, desire to be successful, or concern over how we will be viewed by others, we are more likely to apply our full to accomplish the goal.
🧙♂️ Setting unrealistic goals can be devastating for the team morale. They bring disappointment, frustration, and a feel of failure. This is why it's essential to make sure that all members understand and agree with the goals set. Take the time to explain every unclear part and be ready to discuss further.
⏰ And last, but not least, goals should be time-framed. Achievable goals have target dates. Target dates offer deadlines to more than one person, or even more than one team. They can be a reference for any team and transform any goal into actionable content. You need to act now or be faced with the consequences.
Overall, make sure to stay positive when setting achievable goals. This ensures that everyone welcomes the goals set. Avoid negatively formulating them, because it will feel less motivating.
Tip #2 - Clarify Expectations
Teams are composed of different individuals with different traits, strengths, and weaknesses. To be able to get the best of everyone on the team and be sure that they are 100% committed, you should sit with every member of the team and clarify what her individual role and responsibilities are. Doing this from the beginning can set a solid ground of trust and understanding, which you can later build on.
A year ago I started working on a new project, in a new company, within a whole new team. None of us met or worked together before, yet only six months later, we were one of the best performing teams in the company. How did we do that, you may ask?
Before starting the project, we met with our manager and had the chance to talk openly about what our expectations are, do they align with the end goal of the project and how every one of us can contribute to achieving that. We shared our concerns and ideas and discussed what we can do to work better in the future. In the end, every one of us was asked if we know what is expected from us. It was a bit shocking at first, but slowly we built the courage to explain in a few words. Some of us were spot on, some of us not, but we were told in details what everybody's role is and what is expected from us. This prolonged meeting gave us not only the confidence but also aligned our interests and made us believe that we are on the right track with the right people.
This is the power or setting clear expectations. When every member of the team knows what is expected from him, what his role and tasks are, combined with a little motivation, we can do wonders.
Tip #3 - Encourage open communication
In an ideal workplace, communication between employees would be open, friendly, and professional. Projects would get completed successfully and on time since all would be fully informed of their roles and responsibilities. Questions would be asked freely and answered clearly on time. All of the cogs would run smoothly like impeccable clockwork.
Unfortunately, the majority of workplaces do not operate quite that smoothly. Arguments, misunderstandings, and missed deadlines all add up to quite a bit of stress for everyone involved. But the ideal is worth striving for, right? So how can you improve communication and get your team to act like… well, a team and help them bond and bounce ideas off each other?
By encouraging collaboration and open communication, you are promoting better sharing and knowledge exchange. This way, teams can get their people to talk, share ideas, ask questions or seek help when they need it and feel appreciated when asked for advice. Open communication also brings down the guessing barrier and straightens the sense of trust among the team members. Transparency is the key here - if team members feel like secrets are being kept from them, any trust you have built goes right out the window. This is why you should be open and honest, mutual trust is essential for any relationship, including a professional one.
Tip #4 - Rethink Meetings and Minimize Distractions
Meetings are the necessary evil. Without them, the work process can become chaotic and unorganized. On the contrary, too many meetings took precious time, that can be used for more productive activities.
I've been on both ends and had experienced the followed outcomes, yet I still believe that having too many meetings is more destructive than having any at all. The reason - meetings are hard to keep organized.
❌ How Not to Organize Meetings
Let me first start with one of the most common meetings we have as developers - the daily standup. The idea behind it is rather simple - the whole team meets every day for a quick status update, and it's best all to be stand up to keep the meeting short. Many teams and managers get carried away and transform this short session into a long, ineffective meeting with no apparent point or value. I have been told of stories, where a daily standup was taking 30-40 minutes. This means that in a team of 15, they lose 7.5 hours a day because of just one meeting - 150 hours per month or 1800 hours per year. This is why it's necessary to plan meetings in advance.
Something we do in our team is we timebox every meeting and stick by strictly to it. When the time is over, we just do a quick summary and agree on the following steps if necessary. In the beginning, I was afraid that this could lead to even more meetings, but it was quite the opposite. We started to look at meetings as healthy distractions, which would take a little time now but will save us a ton of effort in the future. The key point here is to keep meetings organized and short, if possible, and always look at them as a final step.
Another negative point of having too many meetings is that they distract us too much. It's proven that once you lose focus on our task, it took between 5 to 10 minutes to get in the zone again. This is true not only for meetings but for short on-side questions and discussions too.
✅ How to Organize Meetings
To prevent distractions from happening, you can do a couple of things. First, learn when and how to ask for assistance. If you see that our colleague is in the zone, working hard on his task, it's probably best not to interrupt him. Ask him if he has the time now, agree to come later or look for someone else.
Another thing to do is to start to document and automate. Instead of asking the same questions over and over again, start writing down your problems and solutions or even better - write programs that can automate the whole process. You can document anything - common failed build errors and how to fix them, common patterns used across the codebase, project architecture overview, design decisions, etc. That way, you would have not only a repository of help resources but also encourage knowledge sharing and contribute to creating a distraction-free work environment.
As we saw, rethinking meetings and minimizing distractions play a significant role in increasing both individual and team performance. What is most important though, is finding a balanced solution that works for the whole team.
Tip #5 - Give and Seek Individual Feedback
Feedback is a part of how we work. It can be a simple sentence on a piece of work, or it can be a more detailed and structured discussion about how we're doing and what we could do even better.
When done in the right way and with the right intentions, feedback can lead to outstanding performance. Employees have to know what they are doing well and not so well. For them to really hear your thoughts and suggestions on ways to improve, though, that feedback has to be delivered carefully and frequently.
But what makes one feedback good and what are its characteristics? I believe that good feedback should be sincere and it should be given in a genuine way. The recipient needs to feel that you really believe what you are saying for the feedback to be valuable. We want the after effect of the recipient to be an urge for improvement, growth, and success, rather than a feeling of hurt and betrail.
Feedback should be given on a regular basis, which strengthens the effect. This offers many opportunities for positive reinforcement as well as consistently offering corrective guidance to help people improve.
What I like to do when giving feedback is to start with the purpose of the feedback. I make sure to explain what I have observed and identify further actions that can be taken.
When giving feedback, try to give constructive criticism. Constructive criticism strives to help a good employee to be even better and stretch their skills abilities and work performance. It also helps a struggling employee to get back to speed. Also, always leave a space for clarifying questions. Always ask if anything is not clear, because the feedback session is an opportunity for clearing misunderstandings.
Other than giving regular feedback, you should incorporate looking for feedback as a part of your self-evaluation. Ask your supervisors or managers how are you performing and are there anything that you should work on. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss with our team ways to strengthen your work relationship and how to help each other to meet the performance goals you have agreed. What I do when receiving feedback is to listen actively and notice the non-verbal communication. Understanding what your colleague is not saying is equally important as the things he says. Feedback is a great tool to learn more about yourself and how others see and understand you. Value this activity and if you haven't utilized it already, try to.
Tip #6 - Create an Environment of Constant Innovation and Learning
Money has never been the moving force for most developers. We have started programming because of our love for solving problems in the most creative and efficient way possible. Do you know that keeps us creative and efficient? - Learning and innovation.
Learning on the Job
The IT industry is one of the fastest evolving industries in the world. Today's patterns are the tomorrow anti-patterns, and for you and our team to be always on the crest of a wave you need to create a workplace, where learning new things is praised, experimenting is encouraged and innovating is seen as the natural way of doing something meaningful. It may sound like a total waste of time, yet this is the most effective way of keeping teams motivated and productive. Incorporating learning in the work process can also increase the trust in your company.
I've always been a strong proponent of corporate libraries. Books are one of the most accessible ways of learning. Combined with focused practicing, books can transform an idea into reality and solve even the most challenging problem. So, by giving your team the chance to choose books, magazines or a subscription to a learning platform, you are investing in your team and company future.
How to Bring Innovation to Your Team
I've mentioned innovation as the second method of being creative and efficient. In this time of total globalization, it's difficult but rewarding to be innovative. When we think about it, our everyday job as developers are mostly solving problems for others. Some of these problems may not be relevant to us or they may become boring because we've solved them a million times. The only way to prevent this from happening is when you give the opportunity for your team to work on the problems when really care about. How to do this? By doing hackathons.
If you don't know what hackathon is, it's an event, where people are tasked to solve a problem in the most creative way for a short amount of time, mostly a day or two. Hackathons are a chance for your team to bring an idea to life. It's a productive and fun activity, where people can share knowledge and learn something new. If you haven't organized a hackathon yet - try it, you won't be disappointed.
Books and hackathons are great, but there is another method of promoting learning and innovation - teaching. If you are familiar with the Learning Pyramid, you would know that teaching others is the best way of learning. The easiest way to teach is by doing lectures and dev talks. It can be scary at first, especially if you don't have experience talking in from people before, but in time this has the potential of becoming the most fun and rewarding activity when we talk about learning.
Regardless of what you choose, you should always think of ways to help our team to develop and progress. You will be definitely rewarded for our effort.
Tip #7 - Boost Productivity by Encouraging Self-care
The main cause of productivity loss is stress. Stress can be caused by many things - too much work, over-complicated tasks, physical discomfort to name a few. Constant stress can lead to burnouts and even serious mental problems. To cope with the stress and found a solution is no easy task, but that doesn't mean it is impossible.
When you first start feeling that stress and pressure at work are taking over, step back. Take a couple of days off or take it easy for some time. Give your body and mind time to rest. Try to find the source of stress and act on it. If it is a difficult task - look for help, if it a colleague - try to talk with him or arrange a meeting with him and your manager. If it's the absence of coffee - inform the office manager or the person responsible. You get the point - look for a solution that works for you and don't give the emotion takes over you.
The opposite of stress is peace and relaxation. When looking through the prism of work, peace can be associated with happiness. I like to look at team happiness as a measurement of success and we all know that a successful team is a productive team. Happiness can be interpreted differently by people. After all, we all have a different definition of happiness, yet I still find one quality that everyone seeks - mutual understanding.
Being in a friendly environment, where you and every member of the team feel safe and secure is like finding a nirvana. It takes times and effort, but once achieved, can do wonders. It took half a year for my team and me to reach that level, but our performance increased even more.
So, try to keep stress to a minimum and look for ways of improving happiness and I assure you, you will see the difference in no time.
Tip #8 - Learn to Delegate
Delegation is a major key to maximizing productivity and keeping yourself sane during tight deadlines or large workloads. The problem is that many don't know how to delegate effectively. Delegating tasks is a skill, that like any other skill, can be learned.
Many think that delegating is just passing off work to someone else and that you show weakness and inability to handle your work when doing it. This poisonous thinking is one of the reasons many starts to practice micromanagement when delegating.
I've always seen micromanagement as a lack of trust. Most of the time, it's caused by the anxiety of managers and peers, who feel the need to control the situation, because else, others won't be able to do their job. The first thing you can do is to understand what is causing this behavior. Is it pressure, or is this his intuitive way of managing. Or does the company culture encourage such behavior? Whatever the reason, you should figure them out so you can respond adequately.
The best way to fight micromanagement is to increase trust. You need to make a conscious and honest effort to earn your manager or colleague's trust. This means you need to be proactive and find ways to prove your credibility, even if that means you need to do more than required. Show others that you are capable of handling tasks and prove that delegating is actually the right thing to do.
How to Delegate Tasks and Transfer Responsibility
When we talk about delegation in the context of performance, we need to understand that we are doing it because we want to find the perfect balance in the team members so we all can achieve more in less time. To do so, we need to start by providing the right instructions - explain the goals you hope to hit and let them tackle the problem in their own way. Don’t look for perfection, someone else might complete a task differently than you. As long as you get the result you’re looking for, that’s OK.
Delegating is not only about tasks, but it's also about giving responsibility and authority. You've probably been in a situation where you are tasked with something but don't feel fully empowered to make decisions, so the tasks take more time than planned. Foster an environment and culture where people feel they're able to make decisions, ask questions and take the necessary steps to complete the work. Speaking of responsibility, this brings us to the next tip...
Tip # 9 - Give your Team Members Ownership and Autonomy
We already talked about how important it is to learn to delegate your work and how to be able to do it effectively, you need to give certain ownership and autonomy to your team members.
People don't work to make their teams successful first. They work to achieve autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Once they satisfy themselves, they start working for the betterment of the team.
That's why it's important to give your team autonomy over their tasks. Autonomy is one of the fundamental elements in building employee engagement. Without it, your workplace may become a “land of the working dead,” roaming endlessly in zombie-like fashion, waiting to be told what to do next. Autonomy is the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best.
Creating an environment of autonomy and ownership starts with building trust. Without it, autonomy is impossible. Trust sends employees the message that they are in command of their time, effort and reward. When an employee feels that he is trusted, they are far more like to give 101% effort to achieve their task, and the best part is that this behavior is contagious, because people are addicted to success.
Tip #10 - Always Think About the Big Picture
I want to end with a tip that changed me as a developer - to always think about the big picture. When we talk about productivity, we seem to ignore the importance of thinking about the big picture. Every step we do, every task we take, every decision we make contributes to the end goal. The team needs to know that the end goal is, what are milestones and what are the expected results of the work.
Knowing that we will be able to make more rational decisions about time spent on a certain task or how to tackle a certain problem. Thinking about the big picture has the power to change how we work, how we communicate, how we plan.
We saw what productivity is and some of the ways we can boost it. We talked about how to define achievable goals and how clarifying expectations from the beginning can increase effectiveness. We explored different ways of promoting open communication and found solutions to minimize distractions. We paid attention to feedback and showed how to give and receive feedback. From there we explored how constant learning and innovation plays a big role in increasing productivity and efficiency. We opened the topic of self-care and from there learned how to delegate and give more ownership and autonomy to the team. And last, but not least, we talked about how thinking about the big picture correlates to productivity and team efficiency.
Now you are armed with tools and techniques for increasing individual and team performance, the only thing left is to try them out! If you liked this story, make sure to appreciate it 👍 and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.