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Natalia Rossingol

How to Improve Team Efficiency for a Happier, More Productive Workplace

A happy, cohesive team is bigger than the sum of its parts. That's why improving team efficiency is worth the time and effort.

In an efficient team, everything runs like clockwork. It is like a coherent system where everyone knows their role and place, where efforts are consolidated, and goals are easily achieved. But efficiency does not appear on its own - you have to work on it.

So what exactly is team efficiency? How do you reach it, and how important is it to your business?

What is team efficiency?

The term “efficiency” refers to how your team reaches its goals by using available resources - and "resources" is the key word here. The best way to explain this is by drawing a parallel between efficiency and productivity, as these terms are often used interchangeably - even though they mean two slightly different things.

Productivity describes how much work can be done in a certain amount of time, while efficiency refers to how well you use your resources to do the tasks. 

Efficiency is focused on operations and processes, aiming at maximizing the results by reducing the cost. A methodological approach, standardization, elimination of unnecessary steps, and focus on communication and collaboration – this is how efficiency is practiced.    

The term "team efficiency" still refers to optimization and wise use of resources – but on a team level. In other words, it describes how to use human resources so that they work to their full potential. It includes practices that constitute a methodological approach to work as far as people are concerned, organizing their work in the best way possible. 

Why does efficiency matter in a team?

No doubt, proper distribution of resources, process optimization, and the use of the right tools have a positive effect on the company’s wellbeing, bringing it to success. However, an efficient approach is not just about what’s good for the company. Your team members are, first and foremost, people - their time and energy is finite, and their attitude towards their work is influenced by their experiences, opinions, ambitions, concerns, and preferences.

And for this reason, taking good care of your team is an essential part of being an efficient leader. An efficient work environment creates conditions for a smooth work process, not interrupted by stressful misunderstandings, frustrating bottlenecks, or any other operational problems that could have been avoided.   

Inefficient working practices, on the contrary, can lead to conflict and a “blame game”. Bottlenecks and missed deadlines might cause interpersonal conflicts, as team members try to pin these problems on someone else's back. This, in turn, causes nothing else but frustration and dissatisfaction. Eventually, low morale on the team may cost the company money, as people will start leaving.

To sum up, organizational efficiency is impossible without team efficiency as its component. Only when your team is functioning properly, can you lay the foundation for successful operations. 

How do you improve team efficiency?

So, how do you build an efficient and healthy team?

First, look at who is in the team

  • What are the individual skills and expertise of team members? Explore key traits and skills on your team, cataloging them so that you can use that data later while assigning tasks.
  • How well do they complement each other? Can your people work together like a well-oiled machine, filling their roles and helping each other?
  • Are there any skill gaps that need to be filled? The skill set you’ve got in your team might be pretty homogeneous, so you will need to find someone who would provide the knowledge your people lack. You can conduct a skills gap analysis to find out more.
  • Have conversations with the team members. People might tell you something you don’t get to see, and provide suggestions, like creating more roles or hiring more people.

Improve how work is allocated

  • Is the workload evenly distributed, or are there members who are overloaded? Unfair work distribution has a negative psychological impact on workers, let alone the fact it decreases their productivity and leads to burnout. Sooner or later, it will backfire, causing conflicts and even resignations. Workload balancing, on the contrary, helps with employee retention.
  • Are tasks aligned with team members' skills and interests? It makes so much sense to give individual team members tasks they’re good at, also taking employee preferences into account.  
  • Consider software that can improve workload allocation. For example, a platform like Runn will let you see a full picture of how resources are used – who is involved in what and who is available, based on their skills. This way, it helps with workload management.

Assess the team's time management

  • How efficiently is the team managing their time? Analyze how people on your team use their time. But remember that no one works to 100% capacity – 20% of work time is non-billable, as people spend it on rest, self-education, or administrative tasks. If there are problems, people could try using different time management techniques.
  • Do they use time-tracking software? Time tracking is not a popular subject, but the insights it produces are golden. After all, it's difficult to manage what you don't measure - and time tracking helps you see where time is going. Some platforms, like Runn, offer a light-touch, non-intrusive version of time tracking via a browser add-on - meaning that team members won't need to spend ages filling in a timesheet at the end of the week.
  • Are there any time-wasting activities that need to be addressed? As we mentioned at the beginning of our article, an essential part of efficiency is waste reduction. Evaluate the work the team is doing, and don't be afraid to deprioritize or even eliminate "busy work". Reducing low-priority, low-value work can make even a heavy workload feel more manageable.

Develop how the team communicates

  • How effectively do team members communicate with each other? Problems might occur because people simply don’t talk to each other – or don’t talk as much as they should. It's especially important for cross functional collaboration, as it helps to keep everyone on the same page.  
  • What tools and channels are they using for collaboration? It could be email, phones, Zoom, or share drives – basically, any communication tools, but what matters is the rules of how often and when you use these. With clear rules, communication becomes more effective.
  • Are there any barriers to effective communication within the team? Communication problems might have different roots. On the one hand, it might be a physical barrier: if people work remotely or even in an asynchronous work environment, it might pose a communication problem. The same can apply to situations when teams who should closely communicate work on different floors or in different facilities. But the barrier can also be psychological. Conflicts on a team or a lack of psychological safety will prevent people from sharing information openly

Learn more ➡️ overcome communication barriers with our Guide to Asynchronous Meetings.

  • What can you introduce to improve communication? As we already mentioned, clear guidelines around communication will save you a headache. A standard procedure of who reports to whom, when, how often, and what information needs to be exchanged will ensure open communication. Discuss these rules at internal meetings and make sure every team member knows them – as an option, you could send out a guide over email, or make a team agreement.

Establish a feedback and continuous improvement process

  • Are there mechanisms in place for continuous improvement? Without improvement, people tend to fall behind. That’s why it’s important to build a culture of continuous improvement. This could involve various trainings, both internal and external, online courses and specialized literature, or shadowing.   
  • Are lessons learned from past projects being applied to current ones? When past mistakes are not analyzed, there is a risk they will be repeated. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to hold a retrospective after each project, to analyze what went wrong as well as what worked well. 
  • What can be done to improve this? Continuous improvement of team performance is not possible without continuous feedback. Let people speak up and share what, in their opinion, can be improved and how that can be done.

Assess team morale and motivation

  • Are there any factors affecting morale, such as conflicts or lack of recognition? No one will be productive if the mere thought of having to go to work makes them feel sick. Conflicts with colleagues create additional levels of anxiety and stress that drain all the joy out of working in a team. To a lesser extent, the same can be said for a lack of recognition – when you don’t get any feedback, you may be left wondering if you're doing something wrong. Again, this can cause anxiety and negativity around work.
  • What can be done to boost morale and keep the team engaged? Creating an environment of psychological safety where everyone can express themselves and aren't afraid to speak up, cultivating a culture of productive conflict, empathetic leadership, introducing positive feedback and rewards so people know that their efforts are appreciated - all these things contribute to employee well-being.

How can you measure team efficiency?

To keep track of your team’s efficiency at work, you should continuously measure it. While it might be hard to assess team morale or even the effectiveness of time management, resource allocation can be assessed pretty accurately.

By analyzing if your team includes people with the necessary skills, if the workload is distributed evenly, and what tasks are assigned to whom, you can see how work progresses through your team, and anticipate potential bottlenecks and capacity issues before they become a problem.

A workload management tool like Runn takes the mystery out of measuring these factors, with robust reporting features that help you keep track of where everyone's time is allocated, whether they have any capacity available, or if they are at risk of overworking.

Curious to see how Runn can help you improve team efficiency? You can give it a spin completely for free ➡️

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