Speed is unarguably a competitive advantage for organisations in the digital age. But this can lead to entrenched, outdated thinking and ways of working. But even the best teams struggle with complacency if the org culture and management practices are not designed to encourage urgency.
Urgency shouldn’t be confused with rushing through work. We want to keep high-quality outputs and push our teams without overloading them, or creating resentment. A key to achieving this balance is ensuring your team don’t lose sight of the purpose of the business and their role in achieving it.
Every high-performing, self-managed team engages with their work based on shared passion and a sense of purpose. We are all driven by a variety of motivations, but tapping into purpose is a powerful way to get the most out of our people. The challenge is to go beyond basic value proposition and think about what we can do to keep teams engaged. Here are some ideas to help to break bad habits and banish the backlog;
- Turn your office into a ‘living lab’. When your routine isn’t working anymore, embrace experimentation. Try out one new productivity technique a week with your team. When getting everyone on board with trying new things, don’t underestimate the importance of psychological safety.
- Bring the purpose from the top. A leader who forgets to communicate the big picture to their team on a regular basis loses the opportunity to keep them engaged, and thus at their most productive. Intrinsic motivations need to be harnessed to keep teams tied to the purpose. Keep your people in the loop.
- Avoid the temptation to micromanage. During busy periods it can be tempting to stress over details that do not affect outcomes. Whether someone stays late in the office every night should not take precedence over work actually getting done. Micromanaging how your team work also undermines accountability. If a senior leader is going to step in and dictate the outcome anyway, there is less of an incentive to step up to the plate.
- Use visual cues. Even with good team communication, some information will get lost. We were struggling with this recently at Post*Shift, so decided to redesign our Kanban board to include an ‘agnostic backlog’. This meant rather than having deliverables assigned to specific team members, they could be chosen by anyone who had the time and capability that week. This whole-project visibility held everyone accountable for clearing the board each week, rather than people focussing only on what was initially assigned to them. I also like the idea of keeping your company purpose visible. These rather beautiful posters for the Government Digital Service are a good example of visual inspiration in the office.
- Celebrate successes. Keeping teams going from one urgent priority to the next without celebrating a job well done is a sure way to induce urgency fatigue. And don’t forget that celebrating failures is just as important if you want to incentivise a culture of experimentation!
For some further delving into the topic, here’s a list of interesting reads:
- From the Trello blog – how ‘hurry worry’ leads to underperformance
- This Googler believes operating in a constant sense of urgency leads to mediocre work
- A Basecamp piece on not letting false urgency throw you off your priorities
- The 4 D’s of productivity, and how to use them, from Hubspot
- Three exercises for creating high performing teams from the team at XPLANE