Solving the productivity puzzle by understanding teamwork

Shifting the focus of performance reviews from individuals to the team yields big results

A team sitting round an office table

By Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr

Economists and business leaders are scratching their heads about the productivity challenge.

With many HR processes still stuck in the 1980s, HR managers have started to rethink how they operate in a bid to improve productivity. Understanding teamwork could be the key.

Most organisations to date have focussed on understanding individuals but the vast majority of our work today gets done in teams. We can’t get away from the fact that the people working with us have a huge impact on our engagement and performance. Learning how to collaborate more effectively and better support our teams is something business leaders haven’t been taking seriously enough and the data proves this. Productivity is now 20% lower in the UK than it was before the financial crisis.

What can be done to improve the situation?

First on the list of HR processes that need to move out of the 1980s is performance reviews. The days of setting individual goals every 12 months are over. We need to increase the frequency of reviews given how fast the workplace is changing. More importantly, performance should be assessed when and where the work gets done - at the level of the team.

Many of today’s performance reviews are structured to force-grade individuals on a curve. This, in the words of Wharton professor Adam Grant, “at best, creates a hypercompetitive culture, and at worst, it sends the message that the world is a zero-sum game: Your success means my failure.” This type of competitive environment makes employees miserable in their jobs, and it certainly doesn’t drive high performance.

Ask the team to design its own purpose and goals

If we know things get done at the level of the team, why don’t we do more to set collaborative team targets? Even better, ask the team to design its own purpose and goals. These need to be consistent with organisation goals but giving teams latitude to articulate their own goals is more likely to unleash the energy and commitment you want from them.

For example a team using Saberr’s CoachBot rewrote their goals to better align with their team values - “hit budget” was transformed to “aim for financial freedom”. Small changes like this that can have a motivating impact on a team.

Team accountability should also flow through to how we measure and understand engagement. Engagement as a process managed by HR clearly isn’t working. The fact that engagement levels have consistently remained at low levels is an indictment of our efforts to address the problem. In the US engagement has stayed flat at 30% since 2000 and it’s even lower in the UK.

There are many tools to measure engagement, bespoke engagement surveys, pulse surveys and ongoing feedback. The real question now is how do we act on the results?

Saberr’s CoachBot is designed to help teams take action based on two key principles. First, we need to translate engagement data into practical actions that can be taken. Rather than waiting for months or years after launching an engagement survey, a few weeks post-survey we should be seeing positive change and performance improvement. Second, we need to increase the accountability of the people filling in the survey to take ownership of the problems they’ve identified.

Technology to support team-based collaboration has well and truly kicked off

Instead of developing a “shopping list of problems” for management and wasting time gathering vast amounts of data with little change, teams work on what’s most important to them, in their own time, wherever they are. This gives employees the autonomy, responsibility and the tools to help themselves.

You would think anyone in a management position would know how to manage their team, wouldn’t you? Think again. Even the most basic “Teamwork 101” style information is not taught to most of us. Given the way most of us work it should be required knowledge.

Equipping leaders with the tools to manage collaborative teams should start by explaining the principles of how teams work. For example, making sure everyone in the team has a shared purpose that’s meaningful and motivating so that they don’t feel like another cog in a machine.

Implementing technology to support team-based collaboration has well and truly kicked off, with the rise of team-based communication systems like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook all indicating the direction of travel. But processes need to be in place internally to support our teams in the first place.

It’s time to recognising that teamwork is fundamental is to performance and productivity. This is what will ultimately enable us to drive our businesses forward.

Tom Marsden is CEO of Saberr, a London-based software company that helps teams work well together.

CoachBot is an intelligent digital coach, that provides personalised and actionable coaching for your team. If you’d like to know more please get in touch with Saberr to request a demo.