In our busy workplaces, it can be tempting to have your team running at 100% capacity, with no room for downtime. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for teams to feel overwhelmed at work. And being overwhelmed at work doesn’t help anybody.
Personally, I like people (including myself) to be working on regular daily tasks about 80 – 90% of the time. These tasks involve performing the core functions of your role.
What? So the rest of the time, we just put our feet up and have coffee?
No. We spend the remaining 10 – 20% of the time improving the way we work, developing our skills and preparing for the future.
Why Being Overwhelmed at Work Is Hurting Your Team
Feeling overwhelmed at work is stressful, and can impact the wellbeing of your team members over time, leading to burnout.
But apart from the obvious impacts of stress that we want to avoid, there are some other good reasons why you need to be looking to reduce the workload on your team.
1. Too Much Time Spent on Core Tasks Means Less Improvement
If your team spends all their time working on their core tasks, but no time on activities that improve the team, then you will find yourself stuck in the status quo.
Transactional work is being completed as fast as it arrives, but there is no time to take a step back and improve. This simply means that your team will always be completely occupied with the day to day grind.
Related article: 5 Reasons Smart Leaders Keep Chasing Team Improvement.
2. Too Much Work Means Less Variety
When a team is overwhelmed with their day to day tasks, they are often stuck with no option but to keep pushing through until they reach the end of their to-do list. Depending on the team, this might mean that they have little to no variety in their day.
Having variety in the team’s work increases motivation, as team members can devote some time to working on tasks they enjoy most.
It can be very effective to have your team working on “background tasks” that help to improve the way the team works.
A background task is one that a team member can keep working on over time, separate to their core work. It isn’t urgent, but usually involves an improvement or skill development opportunity.
Not only does this increase variety in the day, it also moves your team forward to reduce issues and have people working more efficiently.
3. An Overwhelmed Team Means Less Development of Team Members
When a team is working at 100% capacity, very little time is available to develop skills and work towards the future aspirations of your team members.
I’m not a fan of short-term motivational techniques like fancy rewards or salary increases. Their effects often don’t last long.
I would much rather introduce ways to develop team members over the longer term, so they can progress their careers.
This makes it easier for team members to see the “What’s in it for me?” of why they come to work every day. I believe this creates more sustainable motivation within a team, which will lead to more consistent performance.
Related article: 5 Questions to Ask An Unmotivated Team Member.
How to Reduce Workload to Focus On Improvement
To stop your team members (and yourself) from feeling overwhelmed at work, there are a few strategies to try. Obviously every team, workplace and leader is different so see what works for you.
1. Make Team Improvement a Priority
We’ve looked at some of the reasons why we need to cut our workload and focus on improvements. This can be tricky, especially if we have our team work on them “when they have time”.
Unfortunately, if you run a busy team then you probably won’t have time, unless you make improving the team a priority.
Instead of allocating all your work to take up the whole week, schedule up to 80 or 90% and use the remaining time to focus on improvements.
This can be especially effective if these initiatives improve efficiency because you can do more, with less effort.
If your stakeholders don’t like this approach because you could be working at 100%, then it’s time to negotiate and help them understand the longer-term goals behind your decision.
2. Give Your Team Members Permission to Work on Their Background Tasks
To give your team members the headspace to focus on tasks outside of their day to day workload, you need to give them explicit permission.
Sometimes leaders like to say that they are supportive of improvement initiatives and having team members work on other projects. But then they turn around and criticise them for not finishing every single one of their core tasks.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re supportive of providing variety in the work, or you aren’t. If the non-core tasks are helping your team to improve, then your team will be in a better position to succeed in the long run.
3. Create Background Tasks That Make Your Team More Efficient
To make the case for your team to work on their background tasks, it can be helpful to design them around improving the efficiency of your team. Perhaps it’s using a new system, a new process or simply better documenting what you do so people can understand it.
Introducing work that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of your team can be a great way to have your team developing new skills, having more variety in their work and moving towards their career goals, all at the same time.
Do you agree or disagree? What challenges do you have in allocating time for your team to work on improvement initiatives? I’d love to read your comments below.