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It’s no secret that productive teams reduce costs. The question most companies struggle with is how to improve team productivity.

Is it through the project manager?

Is it through motivation?

Is it through team-building exercises?

But how is productivity related to motivation? There are plenty of theories about motivation. But are all motivated teams productive? Are all productive teams motivated? What is the difference between a motivated team and a productive team?

Motivational speaking has become a thriving business with organizations investing money on speakers who are guaranteed to improve motivation levels. Does it work in the long-term? I’m not convinced.

What I am convinced of is how important the role of project manager is when it comes to improving productivity. Here are five tips to help you boost your team productivity.

Encourage teams to self-organize.

In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, he speaks of autonomy as a key motivational factor. I believe the same is true of teams, as it is of individuals. Teams that are in control of their own work tend to be far more productive. There is a sense of shared accountability.

It may be confusing and muddy at first, but if you allow teams to self-organize, they will become more efficient over time. And that efficiency will drop straight to your bottom line.

If you are not used to self-organized teams, here are just a few concrete steps that you can try in the short-term:

  1. If you are the project lead (regardless of your actual title), step back a bit and let the other people on the team struggle a bit.
  2. When you are just beginning the project, ensure that project planning is done as a group – with everyone participating.
  3. Talk about the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how.’

Build clarity of focus.

Just about anyone who has been confused about what to do next will agree that productivity dips when we are confused or conflicted. Part of the problem with creating productive teams is that there are going to be times in many projects when there is simply a lack of clarity about what the future holds. Sometimes, you will need to put things on hold while your client catches up, particularly on change initiatives being done in organizations where jobs are threatened. Three concrete ways to help improve focus are:

  1. Create a compelling ‘why’ statement for the project that will help team members understand why their work is so important.
  2. Periodically review the business value on projects. When things change and the compelling case for a project wanes, it may be time to rethink the project.
  3. Ask ‘why’ more often. I recently read that why is the most underutilized word in the business world today. If you don’t understand why you are doing something, ask.

Break down your project into Goldilocks tasks.

Teams become more productive as the members of the team build mastery. Daniel Pink and others have talked about Goldilocks tasks – those that are not too hard, not too easy, but just right. I’m not sure who came up with that phrase, but I like it. When project managers talk about breaking a project down into the essential activities needed to accomplish the scope, this is what they mean.

Tasks that are routine and too easy don’t improve mastery; nor do tasks that are so hard that you are simply stumped. The advantage of Goldilocks tasks is that they build mastery, which improves productivity.

Celebrate the small wins.

I’ve written before on the importance of setting up a project so that there are opportunities for small wins. Celebrating small accomplishments as a team builds energy and enthusiasm and fuels progress. It’s not too different from what happens on a Scrum project when working software is delivered to the client every two weeks, or at the end of every sprint (time block).

Give frequent positive feedback.

There are helpful ways to give feedback. And then, there are those who seem to love to give a back handed compliment. For example, if your team wraps up an activity in less time than their forecast, you can simply congratulate them on finishing the task. OR, you can muddle the compliment with some qualifier, such as “you finished that activity so much faster than you predicted.” The latter piece of feedback sends the message that you are a lousy estimator.

Periodically we do need to compare estimates against reality and learn from that. Let’s just be careful that we don’t unwittingly insult team members.

Another caveat on giving feedback is to remember that we have a tendency to ignore situational factors when we observe other people’s behavior. Take for example, the driver that cuts you off in traffic. Is it your first impulse to think of that driver as a jerk or to wonder why he or she is in such a hurry? Try, before giving feedback, to understand mitigating situational factors that might be impacting the other people on your team.

Did these suggestions on improving team productivity help you? I’d love to know. Leave a comment or give me a call if you want to talk about project management.