How’s it going with getting things done these days? Fewer people due to layoffs and furloughs, reduced hours, but the same – maybe even more! – work. Plus, remote teams make getting together and staying focused more of a challenge than ever, especially if your organization hasn’t gotten quite comfortable with work-from-home employees.
In order to get big things done and continue improving processes, products, etc., teams still have to meet. And if everyone is being completely honest, meeting via Zoom is a poor substitute for meeting in person. Goals and action items just don’t seem to have the same gravity and urgency as they do when everyone is in the same room. Perhaps you’ve already witnessed the impacts: more action item delays, more unengaged team members, more non-work chit chat.
Here are some productivity tips that will help your teams continue to get things done in a timely manner.
Pre-Sell and WIIFM
Nearly everything you try to fix or improve will require cooperation from outside your area of responsibility. And – surprise! – Other departments have different priorities and challenges than yours. In the case of business processes, it’s likely those departments have developed deeply embedded band-aids and workarounds that are now serving as an obstacle to the process you want to improve. If you send an out-of-the-blue meeting invitation to someone in that department, and then announce during the meeting that they have to fix their department processes, you are certain to be met with significant defensiveness. Instead, try borrowing a tool from seasoned sale professionals: pre-selling. Before you have the group meeting, meet individually with the department’s manager, and pre-sell the initiative. Get buy-in on the end goal by conveying the What’s in it For Me (WIIFM). Also, ask him/her to name that department’s representative – one whom you both agree is receptive to new ideas.
Focus on the objectives, not the actions
When you’re in a meeting that starts with, “Okay, let’s get to the action item updates from our last meeting,” it’s time to blow the whistle and call a timeout. Request the meeting leader to spend a moment, reminding everyone of the objectives and deliverables, and whether the meeting itself is still justified. This last point is critical, as many initiatives last months-quarters-years; it could very well be that the original reason for even having the meeting no longer exists. Back in my product development days, I participated in a monthly new product development review. Each NPD project review began with a re-cap of the business justification. In one particular project, a blockbuster new product was projected to generate 20 times the annual revenue compared to ‘normal’ new products. So, of course, it was priority one and consumed an outsized portion of the meeting time. Then a funny thing happened. Each month after that, the total available market, and hence the overall business opportunity, shrank. It eventually became a ‘normal’ product opportunity. We still committed to the project, but the decision-makers were now able to apply the appropriate resources. The shift in scope and resource allocations all resulted from asking the simple question, “is this initiative still as important as it was previously?”
Perfect is the enemy of better
“That will never work because (fill in the blank…).” This comment is your signal that the team is susceptible to the perfection trap. You may know this better as ‘solving world peace’ or ‘analysis paralysis.’ In order to make sure the team is accomplishing something of significance within the necessary time frame, make certain they are focusing on better, not perfect. Ask the question, how often has that happened in the past 10 years? Once? Okay, maybe the new process doesn’t need to consider that scenario; if it ever happens again the team can agree to deal with it by exception. As a team leader, you need to draw the line and ensure the team’s focus doesn’t veer off into a direction that could be unsolvable, or one that could allow it to drag on until the end of time.
Whether you’re improving processes, products, or systems, the timing of the improvement is just as important as the improvement itself. By using the above tips your teams will continue getting things done on both fronts.