In the hunt for more productivity, it is impossible not to run across examples of teams and organizations that seem to consistently accomplish the impossible. Against all odds, they complete projects under budget and ahead of schedule, with fewer people. You’ll find some of them in most organizations of substantial size, and in the start-up world they are the tiny companies that always seem to churn out products and turn nothing into key deals and partnerships. It is easy to write them off as unicorn teams full of “ten-Xers”, but what really separates them from the rest of the pack?
Mutual Respect and Confidence
In a word, trust. To be a highly effective team, you have to respect each other and have confidence in your abilities. Without it, real delegation and ownership are impossible. One of the best ways to do more with less is to not waste time repeating work. A lot of what we think of as necessary process is actually just work repetition because we don’t trust each other (status meetings, design collaborations, approval processes, etc.). The invisible repetition is actually much worse though.
How much time do you spend thinking about, problem solving for, and worrying over work someone else on your team owns? This is all repeating work and you should just stop doing it. Everyone has a cognitive limit on what they can do in a day. Those people that seem to get so much more done than you are probably not much more capable than you; they just spend their energies on their work, not silently redoing everyone else’s.
This isn’t to say that your team should all go off into their respective cubby-holes and ignore the realities of a project. That would be missing the forest for the trees. Instead, look hard at how you are spending your time and be honest with yourselves about why you generate the deliverables you do and what you are each spending your time thinking about.
This is the one everyone knows about and tries to do (after all, it is what separates us from the monkeys). So what are those unicorn teams doing differently? They focus exclusively on tools that multiply output or effectively share knowledge. When it comes to productivity, tools that do anything else are worse than useless.
Notice that I said multiply output, not save time. This is an important and subtle difference, deserving of a post of its own, but suffice it to say, saving 20 hours a week does not equal a 2x increase in work output.
What would you rather have? An automation tool that makes emailing your outbound leads completely effortless; or a personalization tool that dramatically increased your outbound conversion rates. Your unicorn sales teams are going with the latter every time.
What about a code generation tool that reduces hand written LOC by 90% vs an automated testing tool that lets you deploy features confident of performance and regression. Once again your 10x team is taking the latter.
So what about tools that help teams effectively share knowledge? These are tools that keep everyone on the same page or directly make domain specific knowledge available. That means they are either seamlessly pushing status data out or capturing and publishing domain knowledge. And, to be effective, they must integrate directly into your work flow with little to no modification. Again it might be useful to say what they aren’t, namely tools for direct communication (chat apps, email, social
networks collaboration tools) and document builders (wikis, spec/diagram/report generators).
Great tools directly enhance the team metrics that matter, surface useful data seamlessly and reduce the need for team members to context switch. Highly effective teams know this and are ruthless about identifying and utilizing the great tools.
Always Iterate Process
Finally, standout teams weren’t born that way and they didn’t just wake up one day and decide to stop slacking. Instead, they built themselves up into well oiled machines by continuously iterating on their process. Building self-reflection and a willingness to embrace change into your team culture is vital. You must honestly and openly look at what process generates results and what falls flat. Then, apply the same problem solving you take to customer issues to your own team dynamics.
Of course this means trying new ideas and learning from other teams. But, it also means bringing the same goal oriented, measurement grounded rigor you take to external project to your own process.
Rome wasn’t build in a day, but with the right foundation of trust, a careful selection of tools and a consistent drive to keep improving, the walls of your Colosseum will be going up before you know it.