When you’re running a small business, every moment matters. Whether you’re going toe-to-toe with industry titans or trying to carve out your own niche, you have a limited number of hours each week/month/year to make your business as successful as possible.
Look at it this way: on average, you have 2,000 hours each year per employee to spend chasing your goals—whether that’s bringing a new product to market or expanding your locations. Are you equipping them with the tools and processes they need to squeeze every last drop out of those hours?
The impact of productivity on business success can’t be understated—a survey on employee productivity found that the total economic impact of unproductive employees was a shocking $97 million.
And a recent Gallup report on workplace productivity found that an unproductive or disengaged employee cost their employers 34% of their salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they earned. For an employee on an average salary, that was an annual loss of $15,980 each year. Multiply that by an entire team or company, and you’re looking at an annual loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, lost opportunities, missed targets… the list goes on.
But despite how important productivity is to the bottom line, many businesses still make decisions, conscious or not, that actually make their teams less productive.
In this post, you’ll learn about:
- What a productive team looks like
- What high-performing teams get right
- How to improve your team’s productivity in 4 simple steps
To understand how you can improve team productivity, let’s first look at what productivity actually looks like in a modern organization.
What does a productive team look like?
When the workforce was mostly made up of manufacturing, industrial, and agricultural workers, measuring employee output was easy—you could just look at the number of units produced or bushels harvested, and BOOM… you had a tangible measure of employee productivity.
But as the economy has shifted to a mostly knowledge-driven workforce, the definition of employee “productivity” has become more, well, ephemeral. A well-known example looks at development teams being measured by the number of lines of code they produced.
Sounds like it makes sense, but what if teams decided to inflate the number of lines they deploy to a product? Does that end result actually make the final product better, or would productivity be better measured by finding the way to deploy with the least number of lines required? We’re leaning towards the latter.
In other words, a productive team isn’t necessarily the team that does the most work—but rather, the team that can accomplish the most while being efficient with time and resources.
To get your team from unproductive to productive, let’s look at what high-performing teams look like.
4 ways to make your team more productive: what high-performing teams get right
1. They communicate well.
In today’s workplaces, very little work is completed by teams of one. To paraphrase John Donne, no knowledge worker is an island—and for effective teamwork to happen, there are usually a ton of moving pieces that need to be coordinated in tandem. In order to do this, teams need to be able to communicate effectively.
Whether that communication is taking place asynchronously (a conversation that doesn’t take place in real time, like emailing or commenting), or in real time (via video chat or in a meeting), productive teams tend to be masters of coordinating projects and exchanging information when they need to.
How to get there:
The first step towards creating an environment where effective communication takes place is building it into your culture. Creating a culture of communication means allowing employees to communicate freely with others in the company—regardless of structure, status, or hierarchy. Think of it as the digital version of leaving your office door open.
Elon Musk famously sent a memo within Tesla encouraging employees to share information and communicate with whomever was necessary in order to solve business problems the fastest:
The next step is to give your team the tools and processes they need to make that communication happen. This can take a few different forms:
- Video chat for meetings or face-to-face conversations, whether teams are remotely distributed or for situations where a conversation is necessary and it’s easier or faster than walking two floors or two cubicles down:
- Instant messaging for asynchronous messages and communication, for when conversations don’t need to take place in real time but critical information still needs to be exchanged.
- Good old phone calls—which can now be made through the internet and routed to a web app, smartphone, and of course, an old-fashioned landline phone:
And while communication is critical for boosting productivity, it’s not the only factor.
2. They’re engaged.
Team productivity is profoundly impacted by the engagement levels of the employees who make up the team—and usually, the productivity floor and ceiling are determined by your least engaged teammates. For teams to execute on their best work, everyone needs to feel a sense of connection to their work, their business, the business goals, and their fellow employees.
The benefits of having engaged employees are enormous: engaged employees are absent less, more motivated, retain more customers, and can even impact employee satisfaction and quality of life outside of the office.
How to get there:
Creating an army of engaged employees starts with one tactic that’s simple on the surface but often overlooked: make them feel heard. In fact, a recent study from Salesforce found that employees who felt as though their voices were heard were nearly five times more likely to deliver their best (read: most productive) work. Remember that earlier section on communication?
Employee engagement is also impacted by recognition at the team and individual level—and yet many organizations overlook this component of building an engaged workforce. This Gallup study found that only one in three workers had received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days.
Providing recognition doesn’t even need to cost anything (like a raise)—in fact, in the same study, employees said that simply receiving public acknowledgement from a manager or executive was the most memorable recognition.
Build recognition into the DNA of the company and encourage managers and individual contributors to provide recognition for coworkers who go above and beyond. Make it easy for them to do so via a public messaging channel, in weekly or monthly meetings, or via an employee feedback tool like 15Five.
Boosting employee engagement doesn’t have to be rocket science, but if you can figure it out, you’ll see your team productivity take off.
3. They know what they’re doing, and why.
For teams to be productive, they have to know and understand what they’re pursuing. They need the “why.”
High-performing teams are able to move quickly because they can rally around shared goals that are visible, focused, and communicated well. Imagine if every individual could clearly see how their efforts impact the goals of the team and broader business.
Despite this, many businesses still struggle to place their goals and objectives front and center—only 5.9% of companies communicate goals daily. Worse yet, many businesses even struggle with making sure their goals are aligned. If you can’t get everyone to work toward the same overall objective, how can you expect different teams to communicate their own goals effectively to each other and get buy-in?
How to get there:
Remember what we said about the value of making your employees feel heard? The first step comes with setting the goals themselves—allowing employees to have input into department and business goals can help them find alignment and make sure organizations don’t overlook potential pitfalls or blind spots.
When setting business goals, it helps to use the SMART framework: make your goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. When different departments are involved, these goals should also factor in shared accountability so that everyone is motivated to work together instead of just leaving it up to the one person who always ends up doing everything for the group project. When in doubt, refer to this handy chart:
Once your goals are set, they need to be committed—and often, overcommunicated. Employees are exposed to so much information during their day-to-day activities. If you don’t make your goals highly visible, they’re likely to get lost in the shuffle.
For example, once company goals have been established, put them front and center—highlight the goals on dashboards placed in visible areas throughout the office (either virtually on TV screens or physically on posters). Have employees write down their personal objectives—simply writing a goal down can make you 42% more likely to achieve it.
Lastly, and we’ll say it louder for the people in the back—track your goals. Setting goals is great. Making them visible is greater. But if you aren’t aware of how you’re progressing towards them (and a shockingly high 80% of small businesses aren’t), all of that effort is for nothing.
Highlight your goals and the progress you’re making towards them at monthly town hall meetings or in team meetings, and focus on individual progress in 1:1s. Empower employees to own their numbers, and make them responsible for providing regular status updates.
Effective goal-setting can mean wonders for employee productivity, enabling them to focus on the things that matter and not be distracted by the things that don’t. Remember, as Wayne Gretzky once famously said (we’re paraphrasing): “You miss 100% of the goals you don’t set.”
4. They work productively, no matter where they are.
Thanks to technology, businesses no longer have to limit their search for talent by geography, and more and more are hiring from all around the world—even if they don’t have satellite offices. Remote work isn’t a nice-to-have anymore—it’s quickly becoming the new normal.
In fact, the global mobile workforce is expected to reach 1.87 billion employees by 2022. Even for employees who live in the same city as their offices, remote work is becoming more commonplace, and with good reason: a study found that an additional 20 minutes of commuting time each day impacted employee satisfaction as much as a 19% pay cut.
For example, True Blue Insurance’s team is almost 100% remote, but their clients would barely notice the difference.
How to get there:
Providing cloud-based tools to your remote employees is a no-brainer. Whether it’s a communication app, document storage, project management, or CRM, there are a ton of tools out there that help teams be productive even if they’re thousands of miles apart.
Having a communication tool that allows for both asynchronous and synchronous communication helps remote staff communicate effectively and never feel like they’re out of the loop—especially when they’re in different time zones. For example, RingCentral lets teams send messages to each other, start video conference calls, and more, all from your computer, tablet, or phone:
By using cloud apps and software, employees have anytime, anywhere access to the tools, data, and processes that they need to do their jobs. Less time spent on commuting and in-person meetings, more time spent on actually valuable work.
Remote workers can feel isolated at times when the majority of communication is taking place via typed words, so make sure that your communication tool includes video chat so that they can get valuable “face time” and have meaningful face-to-face interactions—even if they’re not physically in the office.
If you’re managing a remote team, don’t forget to regularly make sure they’re aligned and engaged with your company goals, frequently recognized and rewarded, and empowered to communicate and collaborate effectively with their teammates and the broader organization.
By doing this, you’ll be able to keep your remote workforce productive, reduce your overhead costs, and find A players from around the globe.
Ready to boost your team’s productivity?
Employee productivity can be ephemeral and hard to quantify, but also incredibly easy to influence in a positive way.
By using the simple tips provided above, you’ll be able to usher in a new era of productivity and profitability for your business—and you might even shorten your commute time.