Entrepreneurs are obsessed with productivity, and for good reason. Most startups work with small teams on short timelines, which means they need every member contributing at their highest level.
You might be working toward that goal by building your business around “lean” principles. If this is you, you’re already obsessive about eliminating waste, creating smooth processes and striving for constant incremental improvement. Increasing your team’s overall efficiency goes hand-in-hand with those principles. It allows you to deliver more value faster by shedding time-wasters and eliminating production bottlenecks.
Here are five proven ways to make your team more productive and efficient.
1. Set achievable goals and benchmarks
Lean teams are focused on performance, which means you need concrete goals. Even when there is no financial incentive for reaching objectives, just the act of setting goals has been shown to improve performance by 12-15% .
The best goals are SMART — specific, measurable, actionable, results-oriented and time-bound. They should be challenging but still achievable. If goals are too big or too long-term to feel achievable, break them down into smaller short-term goals. It can also be helpful to track your team’s progress visually and celebrate important benchmarks.
2. Automate routine tasks
Whenever you’re trying to get more done with a small team, one of the fastest ways you can boost productivity is through automation. According to a McKinsey report, 45% of all work activities can be automated using existing technology. You can automate tasks in HR, marketing, sales — the sky’s the limit — but it’s best to start with tasks that consume a lot of resources.
Your sales team, for example, ensures that the rest of the team keeps busy with new sales and clients. However, your team’s area can often become bottlenecked with the tedious process of collecting legal paperwork. If a client has to print off a contract, sign it, scan it and send it back, this can delay the execution of an agreement by days or even weeks. PandaDoc shared that close time for documents could fall by 30% when implementing a document automation tool. Automating routine procedures during the sales process can boost your team’s productivity and allow them to shift their efforts toward other tasks to get more done.
3. Allow team members to design their own workdays
If you are truly committed to “lean” principles, you have to give your team members ownership over their part of the process and hold them accountable to results, not hours. This means giving them the freedom to design their workday in a way that allows them to be most productive.
Research shows that employees who have the freedom to set their own schedule put in an additional 7.4 hours per week. Additionally, 73% of people who engage in “windowed work” report greater productivity. Essentially, these workers break up their day into “windows” of work time and personal time. These windows can change to accommodate meetings, errands and childcare around blocks of focused work.
4. Keep meetings to a bare minimum
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an employee that won’t say too many meetings prevent them from doing their best work. Given the number of meetings workers are expected to attend, that’s not all that surprising.
The average employee attends eight meetings per week, with more senior employees attending up to 17 meetings. But it’s not just the time lost to the meetings themselves that impact productivity. Poor scheduling wreaks havoc on critical thinking and your team’s ability to engage in deep work. This is why some of the brightest minds have ruthless tactics for avoiding wasteful meetings.
Jeff Bezos won’t call a meeting if two pizzas can’t feed the group. In an email to improve productivity, Elon Musk encouraged employees to avoid large meetings and walk out of or drop off a call if they aren’t adding value.
“It is not rude to leave,” he wrote. “It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
You can implement Musk’s advice by scheduling fewer meetings and only inviting people who must attend. It’s also a good idea to set a clear agenda and keep meetings to 30 minutes or less.
5. Use project-management software to keep everyone on the same page
For a lean team to succeed, every team member has to work together as one. Each individual must be able to see how their responsibilities contribute to team objectives. If you’re avoiding meetings like the plague, you need another way to coordinate.
The best way to keep track of projects and tasks is project management software, especially if your team is dispersed. This ensures your team stays on top of goals without duplicating work and keeps important tasks from falling through the cracks.
You’ll probably have to experiment with a few different platforms to find the one that works best for you. Teamwork makes it easy to manage multiple projects, invite collaborators and assign tasks.
Small teams can be incredibly powerful, but only when each individual is firing on all cylinders. Micromanaging your employees goes against the principles of building a lean team, and it can lead to disengagement that erodes productivity. It’s far better to make changes through scheduling, automation, and workflow optimization to free up your team to do their very best work.