As everyone in leadership knows, productivity is a frequent topic of conversation. Whether you’re talking about what you’re doing to be more productive or the things that are limiting it, the outcome everyone is aiming for is the same: increased productivity.
There is no way to automatically turn up your team's productivity — it takes a lot of work, effort, trial, and error. Though there are seemingly endless articles on “productivity hacks” and other quick fixes, when put to the test, they rarely hold up.
This blog post breaks down 10 realistic and effective ways to increase productivity at work.
What is team productivity?
Productivity is a word used to describe how much an individual or team creates as output. For individuals, it's usually signified by how much they can generate or accomplish within a single day. Team productivity is how many projects or assigned tasks team members complete at the company level. In a queue-based role, like support, it can also mean the amount of conversations or tickets handled in a day.
For many companies, an employee's productivity is equally related to how much they are worth. If an employee is highly productive and regularly contributes to the overall company mission, they will progress in their career more quickly than someone who does not. So, along with being in the company's interest, being productive is also valuable to the employee.
How to increase team productivity at work
Increasing productivity isn't like juicing an orange. It's not like the harder you squeeze, the more juice you'll get. Eventually, if you squeeze too hard, you will run out of juice.
Instead, increasing productivity is more a function of how much you can empower your team. Empowered, confident team members accomplish more and are more productive than those who aren't. Here are ten ways to empower and improve team productivity.
1. Reward quality, not quantity
Recognition is so important when it comes to the workplace. Any good team lead or manager takes the time to recognize the hard work and effort their team members put in. This recognition can occur at the team level, within stand-ups or meetings, or at the company level during all-hands or annual events.
When you recognize excellent work and contributions, try to focus on quality efforts rather than the quantity of a body of work. For instance, consider if one of your team members answers tons of tickets but has a low customer satisfaction score. You may also have another team member who responds to fewer tickets but has a 100% customer satisfaction rating. In this situation, it's best to target your praise on the team member with higher-quality work.
While it's great that the first team member is answering lots of tickets, they aren't doing so with customer focus. Praising the latter performance over the former incentivizes that behavior for the rest of your team members.
2. Monitor progress
Keep track of the projects your team is working on and how far along they are toward accomplishing them. You could report this tracking in a productivity tool like Trello or Asana, but you can also speak about it in daily stand-ups or team meetings. Asking people to share their contributions with the group can be a great way to promote ownership and accountability for tasks.
Set deadlines and track how you are doing moving up to them. Ask team members to create smaller, digestible steps to move toward the larger goal, and then ensure that they report on their status as you move toward your target completion date.
3. Hold standing meetings
This advice may seem counterintuitive — how are you supposed to be productive if you have a ton of meetings taking up all the time on your calendar? Standing meetings are an excellent way for your team members to connect and share what they are working on.
The more people talk about their projects, the more opportunities they have to get alternative perspectives and feedback on their work. Getting diverse views on what could be improved or changed about a specific project is an excellent way for the person running it to continue improving and creating even better work.
Here are some best practices for standing meetings:
Have an agenda and stick to it. Everyone will come prepared and ready to engage.
Keep it short and sweet. Fifteen minutes is a perfect amount of time for a stand-up.
Keep it at the same time every day you have it, and if you're going to skip it, give people an advance heads-up.
If you plan to deviate from the standard schedule, let people know ahead of time to prepare.
Send talking points ahead of time so people can think about them and come prepared to discuss.
Make it easy for people to join remotely.
4. Create a healthy work environment
It is not often that someone performs most optimally under continued, ongoing stress. If your team members are constantly worried or always on the edge of burnout, they will not perform well or productively.
Ensure that your team members know that it's okay to take breaks, and create a team or company culture of balance. While it's good to check in on how projects are and ensure that they're still on track, it's equally important to check in on how your team members are doing personally. Set aside time in one-on-ones to talk about personal life — are your team members happy? Do they have time to spend with their families? What are some of their favorite hobbies? You can also create spaces outside of work for your team to connect, through offsite events and social gatherings.
When you encourage a life outside of work and ensure that your team members are taking time to enjoy it, they can come back to the office invigorated and ready to work hard. If all you ever do is harp on the importance of work and require your team to work extra long hours, you're pushing them closer to burnout.
5. Ensure proper communication
In business, nothing gets done if you aren't communicating effectively. The more your team feels like they can talk about the work that they are doing and get the support they need from their team members, the better.
That said, communication doesn't need to solely happen inside of your group for it to increase team productivity. Cross-functional teams, such as sales and marketing or customer success, need to be a part of the communication loop. When everyone is involved and knows what's going on, they can better support and help move efforts forward.
6. Identify your team's strengths and weaknesses
While there are always opportunities for improvement, one of the best ways to move forward productively is to coach your team's strengths. Spend time speaking with the individuals on your team about what they love working on and where they feel are their most significant opportunities for improvement.
For instance, you may have a team member who loves writing documentation and saved replies but dislikes triaging technical bugs or working with your database. As you identify and work with this person's strengths, you may give them projects where they manage the documentation or are responsible for ensuring that saved replies are up to date. Working with their strengths ensures that they will do their best work and enjoy doing it.
7. Be authentic and vulnerable
Create an environment of trust and honesty within your team so people feel comfortable talking about what's going on for them. Start from the top by being honest and open about where you have opportunities or where you might have trouble. Being publicly vulnerable with your team shows them that admitting when you don't know or need assistance is OK.
In Help Scout, you can use internal notes to ask for assistance or explain your perspective on customer conversations. This is particularly useful if you don't necessarily know the answer to something and need to ask a colleague. This is a great way to show vulnerability, but it's also an excellent way to catalog information. If another team member searches for a keyword that triggers your question (and its response), they may also be able to partake in knowledge-sharing.
Cultivate a team culture that lets people know that it's okay to be human. Asking for help, admitting you were wrong, or having a project go sideways isn't unforgivable. If you position these things as learning opportunities, it will help your team be more productive — they can move forward and try new things without having to worry about being punished for failure.
8. Set a North Star
One of the hallmarks of a good team is working together. But how are you supposed to work together if you don't know where you're trying to go? Imagine a three-legged race where both participants are trying to run in different directions — they wouldn't get very far!
The same goes for your team if they don't have a unifying goal or metric that they are trying to hit. Before you start trying to boost your productivity, identify the big things that would impact your customers' experiences. From there, distill the big-ticket items into achievable goals and metrics.
A "North Star" metric is a measure that is the most likely to indicate success for a company or team. In the case of support, your North Star metric may be:
Customer satisfaction (CSAT)
Customer effort score (CES)
First contact resolution
Time to first response
Or, it may be something that funnels up to your company's overall metrics. For example, if your company sets a North Star metric of the number of customers and wants to increase from 10,000 to 30,000 customers in a year, your team would need to set some goals in service to that. Those goals might be closely linked with:
Time to first response
Each of those metrics contributes to the company’s North Star by helping to maintain or gain new customers.
It's easy to go down a rabbit hole and get stuck there. Anyone with a Twitter account and a smartphone knows that. However, the power in productivity is about what you do once you notice that you are stuck.
One of the best ways to increase productivity within your team is to prioritize your goals well and to help your team members prioritize theirs. Once you've identified priorities and started to work toward them as a team, check in regularly to see if they need to shift or grow with your team’s abilities and your company's goals.
There are a few different ways to prioritize tasks. The most common are according to which tasks have a deadline coming up soon or which tasks will have the highest impact when completed. Use a combination of these two factors to help determine which projects should get done first. Recognize that deadlines can change, as can impact, and be willing to adjust prioritization as needed.
10. Use the right tools and technology
Team productivity is firmly based on how well team members work together. If you don't have the tools or practices in place to support that productivity, it's never going to be as explosive as it could be otherwise.
Start small by putting supportive practices in place, like standing meetings and regular check-ins in one-on-ones or team meetings. From there, see if there are any tools that you might be able to use to facilitate better communication between team members. The more that people on your team communicate and check in with one another, the more productive they are likely to be.
Use tools that give a birds-eye view of everything your team is working on, both at the individual level and holistically. A good place to start is with a help desk like Help ScoutSlack or Asana. Be sure to open access to this tool so other team members can also use it to view progress as needed. As you implement new tools, be flexible with policies and how you are using the product. It takes time to get used to new processes, and it may be that things need to change as your team gets accustomed to using it.
How to track and measure the productivity of your team
It's hard to understand if the actions you are taking have any impact if you don't have benchmarks or a way to measure them. Before you make too many earnest efforts to boost your team's productivity, it's essential to find a baseline for where your team's productivity currently stands.
While there are ways to understand what kind of output your team is having, productivity is not as easily quantifiable as the number of projects someone completes. However, to understand improvement in output (which is loosely correlated with productivity, but not entirely), there are a few things you can keep track of.
First, utilize the tools you have implemented to keep track of how quickly your team moves through tasks and projects. If you see an increase in completed projects or completion speed, you can assume that you're increasing team productivity.
Second, watch your metrics. While this is undoubtedly a lagging indicator of success, if you see an improvement in key metrics for your team and you haven't hired anyone new, it's likely because your team is being more productive. It is not a direct correlation, but it is an excellent way to gut-check if things are getting better.
Finally, rely on your people. If you have worked to cultivate an open, honest culture focused on well-being, the people on your team should be able to speak to whether or not they are being more productive. Even without a hard and fast metric or reporting tool, they will be a good barometer for your efforts' successes. Talk about it during your standing meetings or one-on-ones, and ask for more detail if they give you an answer you didn't expect. Similarly, if outliers answer differently from the rest of your team, make sure to follow up — they'll have helpful insights.
Take it slowly with productivity
When trying to improve your team's productivity, less is more. If you try to turn up the heat on your team's output too quickly, you may burn them out. Conversely, your team may lose enthusiasm about their projects and productivity may drop if you're too lackluster.
Take your efforts to improve productivity slowly and with control. Remember, the more involved everyone feels in decision-making and action, the more productive they will be.