The last three years have seen radical changes in how teams work. In early 2020, overnight teams had to pivot and move to work virtually. While some teams thrived, most faced uphill challenges. Zoom fatigue challenged Teams struggling to come to terms with WFH. The cognitive dissonance brought about by virtual work was significant enough that academicians like Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor, Organizational Behavior, INSEAD, weighed in on the stress it was taking on employees, commenting that the virtual environment placed high pressure on people because of people having to pay more attention to non-verbal cues.
We all hoped that with the return to the office, we would solve this challenge. Yet, the elusive improvement in Team Productivity has eluded us. What is the secret sauce that most teams lack?
Well, everything. Ignoring Team Productivity is more than potential revenue loss, cost overruns, and missed deadlines. Moreover, the immense stress unproductive teams undergo has implications for workplace well-being. Historically, off-the-chart reports of employee burnout resulting in resignations or employees quietly 'switching off' has jeopardized organizational performance. At a time when organizations need to be more agile in a dynamic economic situation, the danger of unproductive and demotivated teams is like a Sword of Damocles poised over our heads.
That we can't measure, we can't control. More so, with Knowledge workers, it becomes tough to measure efficiency because so much of the work happens within their heads. Counting the number of team meetings or creating a 'happy and diverse' workplace are indirect ways. As a manager, how can you measure whether your team member is thinking about the right problem in the right way?"
Much more than before, successful outcomes depend on multi-disciplinary teams working together. For all you know, they may not even be in the same geography or time zone. Each function or, Team may have its own viewpoints or overriding beliefs about what success means. How do you integrate these teams?
Some of the tools we have developed to bring in alignment and communication have, over time, become the nemesis of Team Productivity. Internal Memos, Regular Review Meetings, Stand-Ups, Sit-Downs, Town Halls, Email, Webex, Zoom, WhatsApp, Slack, Teams, Team Building Sessions, and Project Kick-Offs- Even saying the list out aloud is tiring. Imagine the stress that Teams go through. Somewhere along the way, the Means- Communication Clutter crowded out the focus on the End- Project Delivery. Research across 10,000 + respondents shows that office workers spend nearly 58% of their day doing "work about work," including communicating about work, searching for information, managing shifting priorities, and chasing status updates. Employees report that they waste close to 6 weeks a year on pointless meetings and duplicate tasks.
High attrition rates, rapid scaling in team sizes, or increased deployment of transitory teams bring in their pressures. So often these days, Teams are constituted to deliver projects within short deadlines. Gone are the luxuries of having core teams that have established work procedures. Units are disbanded and put together on new projects almost before they can build trust and seamless communication.
How can we have a blog without at least airing out the challenges brought about by the entry of the Millennials and Gen-Z in the workforce? Rightly or wrongly, their way of working is different. Even Forbes dedicated a 1000+ word article, "How And Why Managing Gen Z Employees Can Be Challenging For Companies," to the topic last year. While older colleagues may feel frustrated in what they see as reduced attention spans, refusal to fit into 'the system,' or resistance to lengthy training programs, the younger cohorts will be the employees of tomorrow. Not for them the strait jacketed ways of sitting through lengthy meetings or replying to long interconnected email chains. Trying to change their attitudes and behaviors is likely to be a failed enterprise. Instead, why not embrace the new? After all, Gen-Z is the first digitally native generation. As generations change, so will the nature of working have to change.
Faced with Teams missing deadlines on complex Projects, cost overruns, or missed revenue opportunities, organizations focus on the wrong problem to solve. The traditional reasoning goes as follows:
While improvements in Individual Productivity are always a good idea, this solution applied to Team Productivity needs to be revised. Despite the best efforts of the HR team and backing from the CEO, company-wide training programs on implementing Inbox Zero, the Pomodoro Technique, and Getting Things Done have promised mirage-like visions of reaching peak productivity but have failed.
Throw in HR Driven Lunchtime Yoga, Meditation classes, Mental Wellness Apps, or Resilience Training. Even then, the needle on team productivity refuses to budge significantly. What could be the underlying cause of this productivity crisis?
Let's take a step back.
Edward Deming, the Father of The Quality Movement, credited with influencing the rise of post-war Japan as an industrial powerhouse, identified 94% of workplace issues as systemic. In his seminal work, "Out of Crisis," Deming argued that improvements should focus on systems rather than individuals.
Viewed as a "System," a Project is more than the individual team members. The critical elements in the Project are the tasks, which require team members to interact and collaborate through increasingly complex communication lines. If we approach the problem of Team productivity from this perspective, the picture becomes somewhat more transparent.
And there you have it. It's not individuals who fall short. Mostly, the gaps are due to the complexity of these communication channels.
To improve Team Productivity, we need to do the following:
And finally, while we are doing this, can we create a new way of working that can be a meeting ground across generational cohorts? Provide the structure and clarity sought by older employees while being digital and effortless to learn for the digital natives.
Finally, Team Productivity is a Systemic Challenge. Organizational success ultimately rides on Team Productivity. For too long, organizations have focused on the wrong questions. Newer factors that have compounded the problem are the rise in workplace stress due to information overload due to the multiplication of communication channels, increased market and economic volatility, higher levels of competition, and entry of the digital-native generation into the workforce.
Any attempt at addressing this needs to carry at its heart a serious effort to bring the focus back on tasks, avoid clutter communication clutter through integration and be Simple and Easy to Deploy.
At Pronnel, we have built a system that answers all these questions. We call it a Work Management tool that is intuitive and easy to deploy. You can use it as a Productivity tool for task assignments or build your own CRM/ HRMS/ Agile Tech Development / Project Management/ Marketing Management tool kit on our ready-to-use templates with just a few clicks. Our focus has been to unify all communication, email, meetings, memos, Chat, and WhatsApp and center it on individual tasks. That way, your Team is unworried about missing an essential piece of communication. Moreover, our unique board approach builds transparency as all included team members can view the status of all the jobs in hand while fixing responsibility to an Assignee with deadlines. That makes it easy for teams to collaborate and save time chasing updates.
Here's a two-minute video showing Pronnel's power as even simple task management and collaboration tool.