Are You Using the Right Metrics?
Several years ago, three human resource pros wrote a book titled Fish, a modern parable about a team that was in complete disarray and how a newly appointed team leader was able to turn that around. Her strategies resulted in a transformation of team productivity.
Part of the book was based in fact, however. It told the real story of a Seattle, Washington fish market, where employees who have the rather “dirty” job of “crack of dawn” fish gutting and cleaning. Once that task is finished, they work as a team to enthrall and entertain customers – so much so that it has become the most popular fish market in the town.
The fish market is a remarkable example of what we call team productivity, and, in fact has received such acclaim that it was featured on the popular U.S. TV news series, “60 Minutes.”
Just what is team productivity?
This term is “loaded,” for certain. But in general, it means that a team is meeting its goals, is consistently meeting deadlines, and is working collaboratively to complete tasks and projects in an organized and effective manner. There are other metrics that speak to team productivity as well, and this article will speak to every one of them.
The Metrics for Team Productivity
1. Does the team understand organizational goals?
If your team consists of customer support agents, can each one of them state the company’s mission and goals related to customer service? Can they then explain how that mission and those goals apply to what they do on a daily basis?
No team can be fully productive without understanding these things. They can establish their own processes and procedures for addressing customer issues and problems, but unless those processes and procedures are aligned with the company mission, they cannot be considered fully “productive.”
Processes and procedures must be specifically designed as applications of organizational missions, and it is up to the team leader to ensure that everyone participates in determining these and applying them in all interactions with customers.
2. Are the Steps for Project Completion Clearly identified and Defined/Described?
If a team is involved in primarily project work, there has to be a lot of pre-planning before the work is actually begun. This means goals will be set, steps will be sequenced, both formative and summative deadlines will be set, and, of course, there will be a clear delineation of task responsibilities among team members.
Each team member must know exactly what he is to do and be accountable for it. And he must know who to access when he runs into a problem.
This is the start of planning for productivity. But, as any team leader knows, the best-laid plans can go awry. A team member may resign; another may become ill; two others have a conflict; one team member’s tardiness impacts the tasks of others and threatens an important deadline. Still, another may be hesitant to admit that he is flailing and needs help.
And when any of these things happen, team productivity obviously suffers.
No one can anticipate all that may go wrong in project completion. But as much as possible, potential issues must be anticipated and planned for. Regular and consistent communication is one key to addressing issues as they arise.
The other key is to ensure that every member of a project team feel comfortable addressing issues they may have with one another in an open and honest atmosphere. It is the responsibility of the team leader to ensure that this culture exists within his team.
3. What are Your KPI’s?
If key performance indicators (KPI’s) have not been established, then team productivity cannot be measured. How do you know what is working and what is not?
A company may have sales goals for which its sales team is obviously responsible. When goals are not met, what is the response of the sales manager? Often, it is resignation and acceptance, coupled with a pep talk to do better next quarter. Really?
Rather than wring one’s hands, it’s time for some serious performance tracking. What approaches are generating more sales? What are producers doing that non-producers are not? The goal is not to berate the non-producers – that ruins morale.
The goal is to help and train the non-producers in the types of activities that are generating sales. When this is coupled with encouragement and support, team productivity improves.
4. Do you have a spirit of comradery?
One of the elements of productivity discussed in the book Fish was the spirit of comradery – this idea that “everyone is in this together, and together we can make it work.”
Comradery is a difficult metric to measure. But it can be observed by an astute leader.
Are team members genuinely helping one another? Who seems to be “at odds” or isolated? Team members may not express their conflicts, but their behaviors will show it.
And personal conflicts between team members must be addressed. This can be a real test of leadership, but if issues are not addressed, team productivity suffers.
5. How is your team at making decisions?
One of the biggest complaints of members of a team or group is that they spend agonizing hours discussing and discussing and yet no decisions about precise actions are made. It’s always, “We’ll meet again to discuss this further.”
At some point, decisions must be made, and the ability of a team to make clear and timely decisions is a measure of productivity. It’s hard to commit when we are not sure a decision is the right one, and getting consensus in a team environment can be tricky.
Napoleon Hill wrote a number of books on self-help and business success. In one of them, Think and Grow Rich, he spoke to a study that looked at 25,000 people who had experienced failure. Of the major causes, one was procrastinating in decision-making.
And, believe it or not, there is an entire procrastination research group out of Carleton University in the U.S. 20 years of research still shows that fear of criticism will often deter team members from suggesting concrete decision options. Team leaders would do well to focus discussions, set time limits, weigh options, and pick one, by vote if necessary. The ability to pivot later is always there.
6. Do team members understand the difference between “urgent” and “important?”
Prioritizing is a key element in productivity. It is what keeps a team focused and accomplishing. If progress is moving slower than desired, it may be time to analyze the daily activities of team members.
Each time an individual stops working on an urgent task, in order to respond to an email, a phone call, or attend a short meeting, focus on that urgent task is lost and must be regained. This is team productivity killer.
Daily prioritizing of tasks, whether accomplished via a short morning meeting or digital conferencing will serve to keep team members focused on the urgent tasks that must be completed that day. Likewise, training team members to defer those “important” tasks until after urgencies have been accomplished results in the productivity you want to see.
In the End…
Team productivity is a result of many factors, six of which are mentioned here. And there are certainly multiple ways to measure that productivity. As a team leader, your task is to ensure that all members understand the goals and are given the resources to focus on those goals. And if maximum productivity seems to be lacking, look for the causes and address them one by one.
Bridgette Hernandez is a recent graduate with a masters in Anthropology. As a blogger at Is Accurate she can be counted on to produce highly optimized text that fosters a deeper understanding of any subject.