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How to Be a Good Manager and Lead Efficient Teams

How to Be a Good Manager and Lead Efficient Teams
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Being a good manager is a prerequisite to running an efficient team, but it is not the only reason a team is efficient. No. The reason a team is efficient does not come down to one person but rather is the result of inter-team dynamics, optimized processes, structured team engagements and a mindset of time and quality consciousness throughout the team.

So how do you get your team there?

First, let’s look at what the dictionary says:

Efficient – adjective

1. (of a system or machine) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

2. (of a person) working in a well-organized and competent way.

As you can see, efficiency can apply to both an individual and a system (team) level.

Relating this to the business environment, efficient teams are an organized group of competent individuals working together toward a shared goal to produce quality outputs as much as possible, without wasting time, energy or money.

Let’s break that down. What you are after is a way to ensure your team:

  • Is organized
  • Is appropriately skilled
  • Works well together
  • Has a shared vision or objective
  • Is motivated to perform
  • Operates in an environment conducive to efficiency

That breakdown is nice and sensible but still doesn’t tell you how to achieve efficiency in your team.

Here are the top 13 ways to help your team crank out amazing work in the shortest possible time.

1. Optimize Your Processes

Before you do anything with your team, ensure the processes that affect and are affected by your team are optimal. Here you will find it is useful to draw up a step-by-step flow of what needs to happen for each task your team is responsible for.

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You can use diagrams or sentences – whatever helps you surface the inefficiencies in their day to day workflow. Assign a time and the perceived effort it takes to complete a step in each task, so you can identify any gaps, bottlenecks or skill issues.

Tip! Delegate this task to the people who lead/manage/work most often in each area or task. This will help your team feel included in any new process formulation and get them thinking about ways to create a more efficient process.

2. Onboard Your Team

As Abraham Lincoln said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

There is a reason big business invests so much time orienting new hires. It works.

Sharpen your new hire before setting them loose on any new tasks and initiatives, and enable them to achieve task completion much easier and faster.

Tip! Ask your new hire about your systems and processes. Do they see any improvements that can be made? New hires tend to come mentally prepared for a fresh approach but also bring with them knowledge gained in previous roles, education and life experiences. If it makes sense, use it!

3. Meet Regularly

Each team is different and so meeting regularly can mean different things to different teams.

As a rule, try not to meet multiple times a week to discuss the same topic. Your team needs time to get things done. Having said that, meetings are still the best and most efficient way to get everyone on the same page quickly.

Tip! Play with different meeting styles to see what works best for your team. Some teams like to have a morning “stand-up” where they go through everything that needs to be done in a day. Other teams who work closely together prefer to have one meeting, once a week. Try out different approaches and ensure your team knows you are looking for 1% efficiency improvements.

4. Focus on the Big Rocks First

These days, there is always a lot of work to go around and not enough time. Keep your team focused on completing the big tasks first and getting to the smaller ones when the time is appropriate.

Filling your hypothetical bucket with small rocks (tasks) fills the bucket but leaves no space for the big tasks that really push the needle.

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Tip! Most people gravitate toward completing small tasks first as it gives them a sense of accomplishment and ability to report their efforts to management more quickly. Keep an eye out for team members who regularly prefer to work on smaller tasks and ensure they know that performance is not a competition. It’ll be okay if they don’t have a completed project in one day.

5. Use Task Management Software to Stay Organized

There is only so much you can do with pen and paper. While a diary or paper-based to-do list might be great for you, it is a headache for your team.

Notes can be difficult to find, lists are repeated frequently and most of your team won’t see it. Use online software that everyone can access, from wherever they are, to help keep your team in the loop.

Tip! Take advantage of the free plans offered by task management software to find a tool that works for you and your team. Explain to your team that you want to make life easier for them and involve them in the selection of the tool. If you just need a place to log tasks, check out tools like Trello, Jira and Asana.

6. Analyze Your Team Composition

Understanding your team composition is vital to creating efficiency.

Look at your team both individually and as a group of people. What skills are represented on a team level? Are there skills individual team members have that can be shared or taught? Who is missing a key skill?

When you notice deficiencies in your team or identify individuals to work on, make a point of drawing up an action plan of how you are going to deal with it.

Tip! Deficiencies are not weaknesses, they are just skills that your team does not have yet. People need to feel like they are a constant work in progress and that they are climbing the ladder to their future self. Avoid labelling your team with negative connotations or they could feel you don’t respect them or that they are expendable.

7. Provide Training

If you identify a skills gap, send your team for training. Your team will appreciate your willingness to provide a new skill set and it’ll simultaneously increase the efficiency of your team. Start with skills your team outsources regularly.

Tip! There are several great online universities offering courses for free but require payment to enter an exam and receive a qualification. If your business is not willing to sponsor the accreditation, perhaps a knowledge-hungry team may be tempted with a few days off to acquire the new skills.

8. Hire the Right People

If you can’t upskill your team, you may have to hire a new person to fill the skills gap you have identified. Pay special attention to whether this person will fit into your existing team and what effect they will have on your team dynamic – it can swing both ways.

It is not just about the right skills. Efficient teams are made up of a combination of the right skills and a positive team dynamic.

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Tip! Hiring the right people is a skill in itself so if you are new to the process, it can be helpful to have someone experienced to help you. Don’t be afraid to lean on your peers or an outside expert to help you make the right call.

9. Define Your Team Purpose

Efficient teams know what benefit they bring to the business. Ensure your team knows where in the system they fit so you can connect them with the rest of the company structure. This makes your team aware of their outputs and the importance of their work to the bottom-line of the business.

Tip! People love to hear from the CEO/MD of a company to hear first-hand how their day-to-day job contributes to the growth of the company.

10. Emphasize the Importance of Mutual Dependence

Since humans first emerged from their caves and began to work together, we’ve realized that no great feat nor project could be done in isolation from others.

Creating an environment where your team realizes that the success of one relies on the success of another is a great way to encourage the team to work for each other.

Tip! This type of reinforcement scales well. It can be applied to the individual, how they work in a team and how your team works with other teams to achieve an even greater business purpose.

11. Give the Day-To-Day Some Meaning

This is a bit different from team purpose, which relates to achieving company goals. Meaning relates to the psychological benefits of contributing positively to society.

A great example of meaning can be found in the award management software company Award Force. Their meaning is simple but powerful, they want to:[1]

“help their clients identify and recognize excellence” … “because it is such an important contributor to growth and development of individuals, communities and organizations.”

What is your team/company meaning? Why do you get out of bed every day and do what you do? Focus on that.

12. Cultivate a Safe Environment

You as the manager are ultimately responsible for the team environment. Teams who can safely and comfortably express their views are happier and more productive teams.

There is a wonderful example of how Ritz Carlton created an environment which empowers employees:[2]

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Ritz-Carlton is a near perfect example of employee empowerment. Each employee is pre-authorized to spend up to $2,000 per guest/per day to solve problems and meet their customers’ needs. Read that again – $2,000 per guest per day!

Create a safe environment for your team by being open and honest with them, showing them respect, trusting them to get the job done and listening when they talk to you.

It is a sure-fire way to encourage them to feel safe and enabled to speak up without fear. Some of the best ideas come from diversity in thought. Encourage your team to raise ideas and you’ll be surprised by the newfound sense of ownership and positive results!

Tip! Empathy is the key. Put yourself in your team’s shoes. Once you do, the trust, honesty, respect and concern will come naturally. You can take a look at this article to learn more about making your team safe: If You Want an Invincible Team, Make Them Feel Safe

13. Recognize the Excellence in Your Team

Recognition of excellence is not just the practice of rewarding achievement, it is the recognition of all the small tasks done well and all the consistent hard work needed to get there.

An article from the team at Award Force discusses this at length.[3] No matter how talented, smart or wealthy an individual is, if they are making a success out of their endeavor, it’s because they work hard to achieve it.

Taking the time to recognize all the small tasks means the world to your team and boosts morale. Positive reinforcement is the key. People who do a great job and are appropriately lauded for it are more likely to continue striving for not only effectiveness but excellence and efficiency too. It starts with something as simple as “Thank you…”

Tip! Try out different employee recognition methods to see what works for your team. Not every recognition method needs to involve money. Consider writing a commendation that will get added to their employment file and made available when they want to leave or give them something money can’t buy – time in the form of an afternoon off or a later start to the work week.

It Can Be as Simple as Ticking Items off This List!

Running an efficient team is not about milking the dry cow for its last drop. It is about proactively caring for the cow and its needs – the quality and pace of delivery will come. Your team is the same.

Empower them with structure, skill them appropriately, create an environment in which they want to excel, recognize their achievements and always keep an ear out for those 1% improvements to take your team even higher.

Resources About Team Management

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dmitry Dragilev

Single-handedly grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views, Dmitry is a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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