Team leaders too often overlook the value of basic organization. But a well-coordinated team gets much better results and stresses people out less.
Pandemic disruption has made this clearer than ever. The further work gets away from structure and predictability, the harder it is to get work done and the more discomfort people feel.
Sure, innovative thinking and new ideas fuel transformative change. But that is the exception not the rule. Most of the time you, and your team, need simple blocking and tackling the most.
Team members need to be oriented to how things work and what to expect. This is something to double down on in times of uncertainty, not something to shy away from when the team needs it most.
The good news is that even if you haven’t focused a lot on the basic building blocks of your team’s workflows in the past, you can give your team a boost by delving into this now.
In fact, it’s particularly important now as your strategies shift and evolve because this is how you put strategy into action. The processes for handling information, making decisions, raising issues, and resolving conflicts are how what you say you are going to do gets translated into what actually gets done.
Failure to do this causes strategies to fail. All those brilliant ideas and insights need to be enacted—otherwise they are useless.
The simple truth is that a lack of organization leads to a lack of translation. It’s also frustrating to people because they hear one thing but experience another.
This work is not glamorous and it is easily overlooked. But it is exactly where to focus if you are hoping to improve the performance and well-being of your team.
What are the artefacts of your processes?
Here is one way to get a quick take on how things are going on your team right now.
Look at the artefacts.
When your team has a meeting, where are the decisions recorded? If you look back at a meeting that happened last week, can you find the agenda? Who took the notes? What action items happened and where do those stand right now?
If these things are carried by oral tradition from one meeting to the next, if they are buried in email boxes scattered across your team, if you need to rebuild data points frequently, then you have room to improve your process.
You might have smart, hard-working, experienced team members. But if everyone has to shuffle around looking for stuff or reflect back on uncertain recollections in order to do their work, then performance will suffer.
Think of how this would make someone on the team feel. Probably a little confused and uncertain at times. Perhaps it’s hard for them to remember what decisions were made and why. Maybe they wonder if decisions they are working under may get reversed or revisited.
What about the work that happens outside of meetings? Are there tracking systems for routine work that help ensure things don’t fall through the cracks? Do you have a handle on your current spend against budget that informs purchasing decisions you need to make today? When other groups make requests of your group, is there a list where that is captured?
All of these things help to get your team organized. And that organization is simply a tool to make sure that important information has a designated place to live so that whoever needs to can tell what is going on.
Do people know how things get done?
Improving day-to-day organization of basic information goes a long way. Information that flows more smoothly and is referenced more easily provides helpful touchstones to everyone on the team. Streamlining basic workflows reduces anxiety, wasted time, and stress.
But there are higher order considerations too.
What happens when there are exceptions to the rules? Perhaps there is a policy question or a special circumstance. Is there a generally known process for handling exceptions?
Sometimes these things are simply taken to a manager or some sort of standing meeting for discussion and a decision. While you can’t anticipate what all the nonroutine issues might be, you can establish a process for handling that category of items.
Another area to consider is how other people get work in and out of your team. Do they know how to approach your group and what to expect from your group?
This can be another area of confusion and consternation. And you won’t always be able to respond as quickly or as completely as others would like. But they will be much easier to deal with if you can explain a rational process for how you handle things. Transparency builds trust, and it is helpful to portray a level of organization and control to those outside of your group.
Finally, consider that the biggest stumbling blocks for most organizations are decision-making and prioritization (which is another form of decision-making). Knowing where and how decisions are made is crucial to bringing some semblance of organization and stability. Too often this is unclear.
Anything you can do to help clarify decision-making will go a long way toward improving organization.
Organization smooths workflow and reduces stress
If the team knows what to do and how to do it, things go much more smoothly. Perhaps as important, structure and predictability lowers stress levels. It is comforting to know what is going on and how things are supposed to get done.
While we can always make improvements to basic organization, looking at meeting and process artefacts can provide some helpful clues to what is happening on your team right now. If important information isn’t captured in known shared places and kept up to date, then that is a great place to start.
Higher order reviews of how exceptions are handled, how interfaces with other teams are handled, and how decisions are made across the organization are also great places to get better organized.
The pandemic has increased uncertainty and disrupted the ways we work. Anything you can do to help bring some semblance of order will go a long way toward making your team more efficient and a little less stressed out.