Efficiency is the foundation of organizational survival. In tough times like 2020, optimizing your team’s performance is all the more crucial.
Optimizing a team is tricky business, though. Even the most cohesive of groups contain a variety of personalities and work styles, and leaders cannot simply ask their employees to “work harder” and expect everything to go well. It’s not short-term harmony that makes for efficient operations — it’s processes and plans.
But what kinds of processes and plans make the most difference. How can a company implement efficiency-driving changes without disrupting the parts of their workflows that are already streamlined?
Here are a few changes you can make to empower your employees to work efficiently without inadvertently putting new obstacles in their way:
Your top performers don’t just work. They also play, travel, eat, sleep, relax, and deal with myriad other challenges and opportunities in their lives outside the office. If the demands of your work environment prevent your top talent from living their personal lives, they’re likely to leave you. Instead of asking how you can be more efficient, you’ll be scrambling to find replacements.
In other words: If you want to optimize your team’s performance, you must first retain your best workers. One easy way to do that is to offer a more flexible approach to work arrangements and scheduling (even after the pandemic has come to a close). When employees have remote work options and flexible hours, they can more easily achieve a work/life balance that allows them to excel in their professional and personal lives. Moreover, flexibility has also been shown to reduce absenteeism, which means offering flexibility is itself an efficiency-boosting measure. Even if you have hourly workers who need to be on the company premises to do their jobs, you can still offer them some measure of flexibility through solutions like MyWorkChoice and Shiftboard.
Facilitate Asynchronous Work
No one enjoys a bottleneck. When an employee has to wait for someone else to finish work before they can start on their own tasks, they can grow frustrated. If such situations happen repeatedly, employees may even become disengaged from their jobs. For the company, workers being prevented from making progress due to circumstances beyond their control is a productivity nightmare.
To avoid these bottlenecks, it’s a good idea to facilitate asynchronous work practices wherever possible. In an asynchronous workflow, employees can work on different parts of collaborative tasks at the same time, or they can work on multiple projects at once, moving back and forth as needed. This may seem like a bit of a headache to institute, but project management software like Monday.com and Asana can make it fairly easy for team members to collaborate and bounce between tasks. The more infrastructure you provide to facilitate asynchronous work, the more you can avoid delays and cut unnecessary downtime.
Give Team Members More Autonomy
When employees don’t feel empowered, they tackle work with less enthusiasm, which in turn means the company progresses more slowly overall. If you want employees to be motivated, you need to give them some sense of ownership over their work. Employees want to make decisions on their own without having to wait for approval from managers on every little detail.
That said, you can only grant meaningful autonomy if your company culture is a safe place in which employees know it’s okay to fail sometimes. If employees are scared to take risks, they won’t feel comfortable exercising any autonomy. Sure, employees will sometimes make the wrong decisions, but a few teachable moments are a small price to pay for a greater sense of motivation, pride, and engagement among your entire workforce.
Help employees feel more comfortable making autonomous decisions by involving them in strategy discussions where possible. Communicate more about the reasons behind projects, and focus on goals instead of prescribing the exact approach an employee should take for every task. When workers understand what they’re trying to accomplish and know that they will not be punished for acting in good faith, they can make more confident and well-informed decisions about how to accomplish their objectives.
Rethink the Way You Conduct Meetings
Most companies hold too many meetings. When you pull your workers away from their primary responsibilities for unnecessary meetings, they don’t just lose the time they spend in the meeting itself — they also lose a sizable chunk of the day trying to get back into the flow of work. In fact, it can take almost half an hour for a worker to recover from an interruption, like a meeting. Someone who attends four meetings in a day could lose a full two hours — a quarter of the workday! — trying to get back into a groove. That sacrifice may be worth it in some cases, but not all meetings merit an extra 30 minutes of downtime.
Ban meetings that do not have agendas, except for emergency meetings and just-for-fun team conversations. An agenda ensures that participants stay on track and accomplish specific goals with the time they are taking away from their normal work. Set a limit on meeting participants, like Amazon’s two-pizza rule, and make sure that everyone who attends can add something to the conversation. People who are simply interested in the discussion should receive a copy of the meeting notes after the fact, instead of being invited to sit in.
Optimizing team performance can transform a struggling company into a successful business, especially in an economic climate as tumultuous as 2020. However, employees can only be at their best if their leaders grant them autonomy and provide them with the tools and processes they need. Create systems that empower your workforce, and watch how much more they can get done.
Sofia Hernandez has been a senior HR executive at multiple Fortune 500 companies.