Teams are constantly changing, whether it’s because of a new employee, promoted manager, or corporate restructuring. While change is usually a good thing, it tends to throw off the equilibrium within a company as everyone adjusts to the new status quo.
For managers, it’s important to evaluate the current workflow during this time to reduce friction and make sure employees are getting the most from their time.
Follow these tips from our 17 experts to learn how to improve the processes within your department.
Identify the Most Important Tasks for the Week
Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Many business professionals swear by this method (though not literally, usually) in their daily and weekly projects.
In fact, Nora Inveiss at DeskTime found delaying her hardest projects drags on her during the day. “It’s hard to focus on other tasks when there’s something else in the back of your mind that’s stressing you out. Getting your most dreaded assignments out of the way first thing gives you a sense of relief, and the rest of your day will be more productive as a result.”
To prevent the difficult and cumbersome work from piling up on your desk while you whiz through the parts of your job that are easy, Gwen Moran at Fast Company recommends analyzing your workflow to identify mission-critical tasks and extra assignments that have attached themselves to you.
“As you begin to see how your days typically shape up, observe what really has to be done during the course of your day and what you’re doing because it’s a habit or because someone asked you to take on a task, but it wasn’t really necessary.”
Once you have your top tasks, you can set your calendar for the week. Bill Faeth, CEO of Inbound Marketing Agents, swears by organizational calendars to lay out your tasks: “Schedule the amount of time you’d like to spend on each task and don’t deter from your plan. When you have a schedule in front of you and self-created deadlines, it will be easier for you to stay on track and fight the time-wasters that take a bite out of your productivity.”
Daily micro-deadlines are the easiest way to measure whether you’re accomplishing your goals. This can also be applied to employees to ensure they’re not spending too much time on projects of low importance.
Eliminate Busywork from Your Team
Once you have identified the most important parts of your week, you can study the other end of the spectrum to find and remove busywork and tasks that should be automated.
“Developers are the first people to notice when a manual process could just be automated,” says Melissa Cooper at Dwolla. “Unfortunately, performing up-front tasks to get to the heart of what you’re trying to do is all too often part of the job. Look for moments where developers expect things to be tedious and instead wow them by removing the busy work; make the processes seamless.”
Along with manual processes, time traps can also drain your weekly hours. Tami Strang at Cengage Learning offers advice for dealing with them.
“Manage your time traps by defining and limiting the amount of time you spend on them,” Strang says. “To keep yourself accountable, set a timer … and step away from the activity once it goes off. (No hitting snooze!)”
She also suggests using time traps — such as checking email or reorganizing your desk — as a reward for finishing your most important work.
If you’re unsure whether something is busywork, ask yourself and your employees why they do it, and what benefit it has to the company.
For example, Michael Rader at Forum One believes execution without an idea is just busywork, and advises managers to tie both concepts together to create motivated teams. “A clear understanding of your project goals helps tie what you’re doing back to what your organization as a whole is trying to accomplish.”
If the task helps the bottom line, it can stay, but managers should reevaluate potential automation opportunities in the future.
Decide What Should be Delegated
The next step in your process evaluation needs to be delegation, and deciding what should be passed onto your team. Now that you’ve removed busywork from your employees, their calendars should be more open to taking some of your work.
Melany Gallant of Halogen Software admits that deciding what to delegate can be a challenge, but sometimes a manager just needs to let go. “Maybe you’re concerned that things won’t be done ‘right’ unless you do it. Ask yourself if this is a case of you wanting things done ‘your way’ or whether your employees truly don’t have the skills to complete the task successfully. If it’s the latter, then a coaching conversation is in order.”
This is especially hard for managers who have built a team or department from the ground up, and now have to pass their skills onto the growing team.
“You have earned your position in the company because you have the skills and the experience to execute the work successfully,” says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom.
“If everybody in the company had those skills, your position wouldn’t be unique. There will be some tasks and projects that you’ll have to tackle on your own, but there should also be a set of tasks on your plate that someone else can handle.”
Once your employees prove they can handle the work, take a step back and let them grow.
Trust Your Employees to Set Their Own Priorities
As you transition the workflow of your team, let them know that you will be there to support them during the implementation process, but that they will have more freedom in the long run.
“Examine your workflow, and identify key areas that would benefit from greater flexibility and creative input,” says Drew Hendricks, CMO at Blogpros. “Sit down with your team and explain how much flexibility they will each have within a task. Don’t leave it open-ended — give them some parameters to work with so that they’re not overwhelmed with options.”
Flexibility and trust has been proven to increase employee engagement, which has significant financial and cultural benefits within an organization.
Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, has made it his goal to modernize how we think about employee engagement. “The first and perhaps most important part of employee engagement is job-person fit. … Despite [pressure] to improve productivity, research shows that when we enrich jobs, giving people more autonomy, decision-making power, time, and support, the company makes more money.”
Furthermore, failing to let your team make their own priorities will increase turnover, causing more calamity for your employees, peers, and co-workers.
Rob Wormley at When I Work explains that constant micromanagement is more than a time waster for managers: It also causes employees to disengage. “Employees under continual gaze develop fear and resentment, and even if you can keep them productive, attitude and other issues will pop up. If you don’t trust your employees, it shows.”
It may seem paradoxical to engage with employees less if you want them to be more engaged, but this freedom allows them to grow and eventually step into their own managerial roles within the company.
Make Sure Knowledge is Shared Across Teams
While your employees don’t need to be micromanaged, they do need your support and the right tools for the job. As a manager, you should create processes for cross-training, mentoring and knowledge sharing.
“Companies are suffering because individuals are having trouble accessing the knowledge they need in order to do their job,” the team at Bloomfire says. “Not only can they not access it, sometimes the people who have that information refuses to share … [Knowledge hoarding] is a detriment to any organization. It causes distrust among employees, killing any efforts to get your team collaborating.”
Tricia Morris at Microsoft agrees: “When different employees and different departments have or provide different answers to the same question, confusion, frustration and mistakes often result. This … is compounded when employees are operating with different information from what the public is given.”
At best, failure to cross-train your employees leads to confusion and frustration. At worst, it leaves your company completely in the lurch when someone quits.
“Certain practices that are critical to your business may be the responsibility of a single employee,” says the team at Paychex. “Should that employee and their knowledge be removed from the workplace, productivity (and profitability) can come to a grinding halt.”
Even if they’re taking a vacation or out sick for a day, the whole process can be interrupted until their knowledge and skillset returns.
Create a Culture of Collaboration and Teamwork
Once your workflow is restructured and your team is fully onboarded to the new process, it’s the role of management to create an environment where the team can thrive.
Tracy Skousen, writing for Partners in Leadership, recommends letting employees know that it’s OK to fail in order to prevent a culture where peers throw each other under the bus. “Justifying the way you think and act in an effort to ‘cover your tail’ pulls in the opposite direction of achieving results — often sapping time and resources to the detriment of others or the organization.” It also hinders risk-taking in the future, which will hold the company back.
Another way to create a collaborative culture is to create education hubs that let employees highlight skills through training.
“Ensure that employees have several methods of sharing their information,” says Entrepreneur Kenny Kline. “Each employee will have different passions and different strengths. If you force every employee to share their knowledge through the same channels, you will end up discouraging them from sharing.”
For example, some employees love public speaking while others hate it. Only a small part of your team will volunteer if you turn cross-training into an oral exercise.
The final key for employee collaboration is finding the right tools for the job. Matt Straz, founder & CEO of Namely, recommends silencing email in favor of more productive collaboration software.
“Studies show email isn’t as effective of a collaboration tool as it used to be,” he says. “In fact, employees are interrupted by email every five minutes, slowing down productivity. It’s becoming more expensive and is a poor channel of communication for immediate decisions.”
There are two main tracks that all managers have to explore when improving their workflow:
- They have to prioritize and remove tasks to make sure their employees are doing the most impactful work possible,
- and they have to provide teams with the right environment and tools to succeed.
When these two elements are balanced, highly-engaged teams can perform at optimal levels, personally and professionally.