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Published on February 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Manager and Lead Efficient Teams

How to Be a Good Manager and Lead Efficient Teams

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 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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