Who bears the responsibility for team productivity? Those with an employee’s mindset—for whom work is just a way of getting a paycheck and paying the bills—might point the finger at their leadership. True, the managers and supervisors who direct our work do have a large stake in team productivity. But they don’t bear the responsibility alone.
Admittedly, at some level, all of us do work so we can live in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed; but the happiest of us tend to be more fully engaged than our cynical co-workers. We’re more likely to invest discretionary time into our jobs, because we apply an employer’s mindset to our work, treating it as if we’re stakeholders in the company. The more effectively we all work together, the more we’ll produce, simply as a side effect of increased efficiency. Ideally, other team members will jump on the bandwagon, adding their own discretionary efforts, and productivity will soar because no one limits themselves.
The Employer Mindset
In the classic Bill Murray movie Stripes, an entire platoon loses its Drill Sergeant to an accident during basic training—and in classic bureaucratic fashion, the Army fails to replace him. So the platoon finishes the training on its own, using a hodgepodge of inventive methods to learn their new jobs. That’s taking a proprietary interest in your work. Although the movie is just a fantasy, workplace teams sometimes have to do something similar. Poor management or inattention may sometimes leave a team to succeed or fail on its own… or at least, that’s how it feels. Even when the leader takes an active interest in the team, other circumstances may lead to a decline in productivity.
Teams rarely fail utterly, but there may come a time when productivity falls below an acceptable level, even when everyone seems to be performing their minimum allowable tasks. That’s when those of us with an employer’s mindset must step up and try to help the entire team. As with other internal team initiatives, the goal is not to undermine the leadership, but to support them by improving overall team performance.
Points to Ponder
A recent study by Peter Kuhn of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reveals that competitive work environments lead to a team culture where members routinely hoard information and take advantage of their colleagues. This more often occurs with men than women. One way to both avoid such backstabbing is to implement team incentives rather than individual rewards. A contest in which sales teams compete for an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii serves as a good example. Team members can get the reward only by working closely together. Not only does the entire team benefit, so does the company in general, because it raises everyone’s productivity. You may not have the power to implement something like this, but you can certainly suggest it to those who do, and work behind the scenes to get buy-in from your co-workers.
A friendly rivalry with another team can accomplish a similar effect, even if the rewards are little more than professional pride and a party. Fostering a light “within the family” attitude can also help the team come together, as long as it’s not taken too far. Fun contests and gift certificates are surprisingly motivating. A properly incentivized team retreat may also trigger investment in the team, especially if you include a vacation element in the work sessions. Again, if you can’t make this happen on your own, why not seek buy-in from your co-workers and suggest it to the movers-and-shakers? All they can do is say no, and they might just take you seriously.
Also consider the possibility of coaching one another. Teammates with greater experience in one aspect of the job can lend their talents to others by coaching them on that particular skill-set. You can do this as a brown-bag lunch session, or by sitting down one-on-one. Unlike mentoring, this isn’t a long-term obligation, and may be as simple as chatting about how you feel, and why you think your productivity has slipped. You can then hash out possible ways to improve productivity at both individual and team levels.
Finally, there’s the possibility your teammates are mentally, physically, and emotionally drained, especially if you’re going through a crunch period. Are you taking the breaks you need to recharge? Taking full lunches and weekends? A team wide initiative to find the time to recharge may be just what everyone needs to perk up productivity. We have to fight the idea that taking time off to decompress decreases productivity, because the opposite is true. Not taking breaks will lead to burnout.
Polishing Your Performance
As a non-leadership team member, there may, at first glance, seem little you can do to revitalize you team’s productivity. But as you can see, that’s not entirely true. You may not be able to make sweeping changes, but you can use your personal influence to raise awareness of the problem and try to fix it. Even if the change is incremental, it can build to something significant over time.
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