Wouldn’t life be better if your team were, well, just a little
bit more productive?
If there was less chat and more doing?
It is possible to create an environment where project team
members can be more productive, by creating good habits.
You’ve read all the articles, you’ve got ideas about how
things could be better. But no one is telling you HOW to get your
team to adopt new ways of working. Sharing round a link to
one more ’10 ways to be more productive’ article just isn’t
making change happen.
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!
What is team productivity?
First, let’s look at what we are talking about when we’re
thinking about how to increase team productivity.
Team productivity is a measure of how much work the team can do,
and still get a quality result.
If you work in the North Pole, like Buddy the Elf, you can
measure productivity easily, by the number of Etch-a-Sketches
produced in a day.
But in knowledge work environments, we don’t actually measure
team productivity. There isn’t an amount of widgets to be counted
to see visually how productive we’ve been that day.
Instead, productivity is a measure of how the team feels, and
how you, as the team leader, feel about their output.
Productive people have the tools they need to do the job. They
don’t waste time looking for stuff or trying to work out how to
get things done because there are systems, tools and processes that
A productive team environment is one where people are encouraged
to do their best work. It’s part of a positive team culture.
Work is done efficiently. And generally, productive, efficient
team members are happier. Win!
How to boost project productivity
reports some very obvious ideas for how to make your team more
- Clarifying expectations
- Setting a good example
- Making meetings shorter.
Whole books (like this one, my favourite) have been written
about how to improve productivity.
In a project team, you’ve probably already done those or
considered the basics. So we’re looking for next level strategies
to get more productive.
Project productivity looks different in different settings, so
here are some ideas to improve team performance that you could
encourage as new productivity habits.
- Provide more autonomy to remove bottlenecks.
- Delegate authority to the lowest possible level so decision
making happens closer to the action.
- Don’t just make meetings shorter, cancel them. Cancel one
meeting a week and see what suffers. Probably nothing. In fact,
rethink meetings totally.
- Encourage small talk and trust and relationship building
activities like having lunch together because that makes
- Do the hard stuff and manage out people who are
- Play to people’s strengths so work is appropriately
However, you’ll have to use your judgement about what you want
But how do we get people to
actually be more productive?
I’d love to say the answer is to introduce a team
productivity tool (especially as I literally wrote the book on
collaboration tools for project managers).
But it isn’t that simple.
The rest of this article talks about how to get people to work
in the new productive way.
And the secret weapon is… habits.
Habits are the key to productivity
Everyone has different ways they like to work. I love lists, I
work with people who are visual thinkers. I’m a morning person,
but the rest of my family (at least, those over the age of 7) would
rather have a lie in.
But regardless of your work style, if you can help your team
members develop great productivity habits, you can develop your
team and get more output in a day.
With the right habits, your team can work together with less
effort. Collaboration is easier. You see:
- less procrastination
- fewer unproductive meetings
- less general moaning!
But first, we have to create a new habit, and that’s
Why people are reluctant to do things differently
Have you tried to do something different and create a new habit,
whether that’s give up smoking, go to the gym every lunchtime or
call your mother each weekend?
Our brains are wired to do something one way, and asking it to
do a task differently takes some serious rewiring. It can be done,
but you’ve got to work at it.
Research shows it can take a while for a new habits to form. And
we aren’t talking a couple of days. Lally et
al found that it can take anything from 18 to 254 days for a
new habit to be fully embedded in ‘the way we do things round
I don’t know any project sponsor who is going to be prepared
to wait 254 days for people to be more productive.
What we need to do is make it easy for people to adopt new ways
of working, and make those ways of working worthwhile. Preferably
with a near-instant payoff in efficiency so people want to continue
doing the new thing.
How to introduce new
Let’s look at some practical strategies for bringing new
habits into your team’s culture. And we want to make those habits
1. Lead by example
I know I was dismissive of the basic advice from the HBR
article, but leading by example is a basic that it’s important to
Be the change you want to see. If you want people to use a new
collaboration tool, use it yourself. If you want people to feel
it’s OK to leave the office on time, leave the office on
You communicate the habit you expect by literally showing people
what is acceptable.
“I think leadership comes from integrity – that you do
whatever you ask others to do. I think there are nonobvious ways to
lead. Just by providing a good example makes it possible for other
people to see better ways to do things.”
2. Use peer pressure
People are influenced by the people around them.
Look at who is already working the same way you want the rest of
the team to. Use change management tactics, like having change
champions and buddies, to work with others and influence
Empower your inner circle of productive people to share their
ideas, and publicly support them to do so.
3. Make changes slowly
You want to introduce a new thing.
You’ve got two choices:
Rollout horizontally: share the whole
expectation with one group, and then roll out slowly to the rest of
the team as you can prove it is working.
Rollout vertically: break up your expectation
into smaller chunks. Roll out the first small chunk to the team,
then the next, then the next.
Successful people are simply those with successful habits.
4. Reward the change you want to see
Make it a game. Make it fun. Reward people who can evidence (or
who feel) more productive. Be proud of yourselves. Thank people for
trying, even if they are finding it hard.
Use your imagination and look at ways you can reward people for
using their new habits.
Listen for feedback, answer questions, and build in changes to
the system so people can see they are also rewarded for
contributing to further improvements.
5. Don’t fix what isn’t broken
If an old habit in the team is useful, don’t break it.
Keep what works. Blend it with what you are currently trying to
improve through new habits. If people can see that the new way of
working fits effortlessly into their existing processes, that’s
another barrier to change busted.
Things are easier when they feel familiar.
Your goal is to create a project culture and environment where
people can do their best work together (and individually).
Normally, people know what that kind of environment would look
like. Listen to what they are trying to tell you about the tools,
systems, processes, communication channels, even something as
simple as where the photocopier is (yes, we changed that in one
team and life was GOOD).
Sometimes small tweaks are all that you need to drastically
improve project productivity, and make your workplace a happier
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