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Keep your team focused on the real work

But this is the way we’ve always done it!

Many workplaces have existed for years. Over time, people have established a way of doing things. Have you ever seen someone working on something and thought “Why are you doing that?”. Often the answer will be “This is what we’ve always done”.

If you can’t keep your team focused on what matters, it can result in inefficiency and poor role clarity. When people start picking up tasks and running with them, in a few years you might find yourself saying “Why are you doing that?”.

Keep your team focused using task reviews

“Why are you doing that?” is a powerful question. The answer will often tell you the real reason for the work your team is doing. You can use these reasons to keep your team focused on high value work. Instead of work that doesn’t seem to need doing, but is taking up your team’s valuable time.

If you dig deeper into your team’s task list, you’ll find areas for improvement. Here are the most common reasons for team members working on things that aren’t really that important.

1. It’s the way it’s always been done

When a task comes from the history of the team or organisation, it may be time for a change. When it appears that a task being completed by your team is not valuable, trust your instincts. Your instincts are valuable when you need to keep your team focused.

Often when you look back, when this task was created, one of the following was true:

  • The team was much smaller, and people took on more varied tasks in their role.
  • The structure of the organisation was different: Some roles didn’t exist back then.
  • People were in different roles, and they’re still doing some previous tasks.
  • When the work was created, there was no better way to do it. Technology and methods have changed.
  • People had trouble saying no to the extra work requests.

2. There is no formal process in place

Sometimes tasks are completed by random people, simply because there is nobody else to do them. This means there is no formal process. The tasks are simply given to a go-to person, who’s happy to help and has been for a while. Unfortunately this makes it hard to keep your team focused on what you need.

It’s nice to be helpful, but what harm is this helpful attitude causing? High value work possibly isn’t being completed, because your team is distracted. Unfortunately, you can’t really just stop working on these tasks without providing an alternative approach.

During task reviews, you need to find the proper way of accomplishing the work. Then you need to communicate it before you can stop your team focusing on it. This may be by assigning responsibility to another team, or another person who is in the right role for the task.

3. Your team enjoys working on random tasks

Sometimes, you’ll find that people take on tasks they shouldn’t be doing because they enjoy them. They provide a departure from their normal role, which they may not find enjoyable. Unfortunately this will stop you from being able to keep your team focused.

It is a nice source of variety, but it still stops progress on the work your team is supposed to be doing. During task reviews, you have a few options:

  • You can redefine someone’s role so that it becomes one of their official responsibilities. This may be hard, since you are likely to get a variety of unrelated tasks forming part of the role, just because people enjoy doing them!
  • You can assign the task to someone who is in the right role.
  • You can change the role of the person performing the task, so it more closely matches what they enjoy working on. In the long term, this option is likely to be the most beneficial. However, it will be determined by whether you have room for this role in your team.

4. Your team members have the time to do it

When people have extra time available, you’ll find they are more likely to take on additional work. This might not be what they should be doing, but it’s better than sitting around doing nothing, right?

This is fine in the short term. However, once this person becomes busy, they are going to struggle with the extra workload. Soon they will fail to accomplish their own work and performance will suffer. Once this has happened, you are now in the situation above where no formal process is in place.

You need to keep your team focused on what matters and ensure they don’t get sucked into doing this extra work, for the long term. You do this by communicating widely with your colleagues and setting clear expectations.

To keep your team focused, start doing periodic task reviews

Every so often, it’s a good idea to undertake periodic task reviews to understand why your team is doing what they do. If you don’t find a good reason, then it’s likely you need to change things.

It’s important to ensure that a person’s role matches what tasks they are undertaking. Even better if they enjoy the role they are working in!

A key lesson here is that your team can’t do everythingso it’s important that you keep your team focused on the right thingsThe right things, in this case, are the tasks that they are supposed to be doing for your team and their colleagues to succeed.

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