10 ways to make your team more productive

The questions that come up when I run Zoomly’s 90-minute workshop on ‘How to work well in a team’ are usually around how to deal with other team members. There’s often some frustration that the team doesn’t seem to be as productive as the different component human parts suggest it could be.

Here are my Top 10 tips to get the team you’re in to raise its game.

1. Establish ground rules

New team members can often fall foul of rules that have nothing to do with the employee handbook. This is because those rules are the unwritten kind that many teams assume – mistakenly – everyone ‘just knows’. They don’t. Team leaders need to establish ground rules, getting input and buy-in from team members, about how things are going to get done round here. Ground rules can cover the obvious, such as ‘meetings start and finish on time’; they can also deal with more nuanced matters, such as ‘share what you learned on that training workshop’. It’s essential to have ground rules where everyone can see them: on a shared drive, on the wall, as a screen saver, etc. It’s also essential to have a ground rule about dealing with transgressors.

2. Hold meetings standing up

Sitting meetings regularly overrun, often fail to get everyone’s input and can end with confusion about who’s doing what. What’s more, people sit on more than the obvious anatomical parts when they’re in a chair: they may keep some ideas / feedback / questions / suggestions under wraps as they’re not sure how they’ll be received. Hold meetings standing up and watch as the energy levels charge up, the relative informality allows more distributed contribution – and the time taken drastically decreases. And don’t provide food!

3. End meetings with who / what / when

Too many meetings end with utter confusion about what’s been agreed and actions to be taken. I think this is partly because some basic steps aren’t taken, as people think they’re too… basic. If that were true, meetings – and the teams in them – would be more productive. Take the simple step of using a flip chart or whiteboard to write up who’s doing what by when to put this beyond doubt. You can appoint a ‘notary’ to do this, or allow each person to write up their own actions. When who / what / when is clear for all to see, there’s lots of clarity – and no wriggle room.

4. Help each other out

The best teams can sense when someone needs help and they pitch in to help for the good of the team. If the team member being helped is continuously in need of support, that’s a different conversation (about performance expectations, skills / knowledge gaps, workload, working to the right priorities, to name just a few).

5. Review projects and apply lessons learned

It’s sound team discipline to have wrap-up meetings at the end of projects and capture: what worked well, what didn’t work so well and lessons learned. But don’t just leave it there; ensure that lessons learned are applied, from that moment on. It may be that a system needs to be updated, a template created, or the steps in a task changed. This is essentially working ‘on’ the team as opposed to simply working ‘in’ it.

6. Share what works

Got a new idea? Great team leaders encourage people to contribute and share what they’ve tried that’s worked well for them (this can be a handy way to get new team members to contribute valuable knowledge learned in their previous team). And if your team has hit on a great new way of doing things, share it with others.

7. Systematise

Many repetitive and routine tasks can be simplified and done more effectively with templates, checklists, simple process maps. Systematizing ensures clarity, consistency and speeds things up. Don’t let new team members reinvent the wheel, nor indulge established team members’ whims to put a spin on things (shared file saving protocols anyone?); but do elicit suggestions for improvement.

8. Give and get feedback for continuous improvement

The best teams are open and honest about their own and each other’s strengths. They are also great at giving each other feedback on a regular basis – whether that feedback is positive (best known as ‘praise’) or negative (which I prefer to call ‘corrective’, rather than ‘critical’, ‘constructive’ or ‘developmental’). This could be at regular meetings, project wrap-ups, 1:1s or team off-sites. Teams that don’t give and get feedback for improvement can fester with unspoken hurts and resentment.

9. Hold the team accountable

Building on the feedback point, the most effective teams set clear goals and hold themselves and their team-mates accountable for achieving them. No resting on laurels, job titles or tenure; there is open and honest discussion about how goals were achieved – or not – and what action needs to be taken.

10. Change the cast

From time to time it may be necessary to change the cast in a team. People may be asked to leave for performance reasons. There are also positive reasons to change the line-up in a team: to allow a team member to switch to a role that isn’t available in their current team; to help meet a short-term need, such as a pitch; to bring in new skills and expertise; to provide cover for parental leave or sabbatical; to provide broader experience of the organisation (many blue-chips actively do this to develop leadership ranks, rather than simply support deep knowledge of a very limited area).

You may also find this post useful: Team effectiveness tip: checklists.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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