When Teams are Busy, Nothing Gets Done (part 1)

Posted by Stefan

Common sense tells us that the best way to get things done more efficiently is to “work harder.” Things rarely pan out this way, especially not in an economy powered by knowledge and service workers who can’t necessarily improve performance by working longer hours or exhausting themselves.

The closer we look at common management “strategies,” the more we discover that keeping busy is avoiding productivity, and multitasking is really just procrastination. It’s time to turn things around, and realize that efficient teams aren’t “busy,” they’re productive.

A Scattered Team is No Team At All

The biggest problem with businesses that “overcommit” is an issue with team cohesiveness. When every employee is committed to multiple obligations, the entire team is never gathered together in one place at one time to discuss the state of things, to plan, or to respond to disruptions.

Management intuitively understands that when a project becomes a top priority, it needs a dedicated task force of people who focus exclusively on that project. Other teams are advised to avoid distracting this task force. Perhaps more crucially, if anybody on that task force finds themselves in a situation where they can’t take any action right away, they are usually advised not to get busy with anything else. It’s not worth the cost of catching them up later or distracting them with other projects.

It is a bizarre disconnect that management turns to this model whenever an emergency erupts, yet they typically take the opposite approach during day-to-day operations.

Most of us are fully aware that communication breakdowns are one of the most common sources of inefficiency and error in business operation. Projects fall behind schedule because plans were misinterpreted, goals were never made clear, and employees who needed to know about crucial changes were left out of the loop.

The most powerful way to cut down on these communication breakdowns is to simply ensure that teams stay united. Each project gets one team. No exceptions. When there isn’t room, there isn’t room. It’s always better to put a project on the backlog than to overcommit and end up going over time and over budget. Mixing and matching projects with scattered teams leads to confusion, miscommunication, and error. Wasted resources are the inevitable result.

When possible, you keep teams in the same room. Regardless, it’s absolutely vital that they share a common communication interface. It should be simple enough to use without training, and it should keep everybody up to date.

Being Busy isn’t the Same as Being Productive

That companies are called “businesses” is a quirk of the English language, and maybe it’s had some impact on the way we approach business itself. Whatever the reason, we possess a hatred of idleness so powerful that it clouds our judgment as managers.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter how “hard” you work. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, or how long your work day is. All that matters is how much value you produce in the aggregate. White there are times when working harder or longer means you will produce more value, these simply aren’t the same thing.

(business and multitasking issues are covered in depth in part 2).

About Author: Mary Prescott is working as a community manager at WorkZone – A web-based project management software company. She is @MaryPrescott on Twitter. When she’s not working, you’ll find her reading fiction or hiking with her dog.

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One Comment to “When Teams are Busy, Nothing Gets Done (part 1)”

  • Miscommunication between team members is the stuff f nightmares! It simply must not happen. And yes, you’re right Mary. One team per project, and vice-versa always works better. This way, they can focus completely on finishing one project to the best of their abilities, before moving on the next one.

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