Many workplaces have been around for years. Over these years, people have established a way of doing things. Have you ever seen someone working on a task and thought “Why are you doing that?”.
Often the answer will be “This is what we’ve always done”.
Inertia is a powerful force, but it can result in inefficiency and a blurring of 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?”.
Use “Why are you doing that?” for task reviews
“Why are you doing that?” is a powerful question, if you take the time to understand the answer. The answer will often tell you the root cause for this work that doesn’t seem to need doing, but is taking up your team’s time.
The common answers found during task reviews
If you dig deeper into your team’s task list, you’ll find areas for improvement. Here are the most common reasons for your team members doing things that shouldn’t be part of their role.
This is the way it’s always been done
When the completion of a task is rooted in the history of the team or organisation, it may be time for a change. Usually when it appears that a task being completed shouldn’t be happening (at least in your team), trust your instincts.
Often if you look back, when this task was taken on board, one of the following is 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 wasn’t a better way to do it. Technology and methods have changed since then
- People have trouble saying no to the extra work requests.
There is no formal process in place
Sometimes tasks are completed simply because in the absence of people taking them on, they simply wouldn’t happen. This means there is no formal process. The tasks are simply given to the go-to person, who’s happy to help and has been for a while.
It’s nice to be helpful, but what is this helpful attitude doing to the work that this person is supposed to be doing? Things possibly aren’t getting done, because they’re distracted. Unfortunately, you can’t really just cut off working on these tasks without providing an alternative process.
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 in the right role for the task.
I enjoy doing these 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.
This is a nice source of variety, but it still harms the progress of the work they are supposed to be doing. During task reviews, you have a few options:
- You can redefine the person’s role so that it becomes one of their official responsibilities. This may be trouble, since you are likely to get a mishmash of tasks as part of the role, just because people enjoy doing them!
- You can assign the task to the person in the correct role
- You can actually change the role of the person doing 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 constrained by whether the role is actually available.
I’ve got 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, but once this person becomes busy, they are going to struggle with the extra workload. Soon they will fail to accomplish their work and performance will suffer. Once this has happened, you are now in the situation above where no formal process is in place.
Perform periodic task reviews for your team
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 up.
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 everything, so it’s important that they do the right things. The right things, in this case, are the tasks that they are supposed to be doing for the organisation and their colleagues to succeed.