Understanding your team process is an important part of leading a team. I’ve worked with teams where everyone knew their role, what should happen when and what steps to take to get there.
I’ve also worked with teams where there was no team process. Work happened differently every time, depending on the team member.
In both situations, work was still being done. The difference is that teams without defined processes are running with a high degree of uncertainty and risk.
Let’s look at why team process matters.
Team Process Means Repeatable Work, Which Can Be Improved
If you understand your team process, the work of your team can be repeated. When you have a standard set of steps to follow to produce an outcome, repeating those steps will lead to a similar result.
When you have a stable set of steps to perform work, you can start measuring them. If work can be measured, it can be improved.
If you drive the same way to work every day, you’ll know it takes you 35 minutes to arrive. When one day you decide to change your route, you can try it for a week and see whether your journey was any faster. However, if you drive a different way to work every day, it’s hard to tell which may be best.
A consistent team process creates a baseline for comparison. Otherwise, it’s a free-for-all and you have know way of knowing what works.
Team Process Creates Conditions For Accountability
When a team follows a stable workflow, everyone in the team knows the rules. It’s easy to set expectations when you have defined processes. It’s easy because your expectation is that everybody follows the process.
If somebody chooses not to follow the process, you can spot it. On the other hand, if everyone in your team works a different way, it’s difficult to tell which way people should be working!
Unfortunately, defined processes don’t create accountability by themselves. As leaders, we still need to be holding people accountable by setting expectations and making sure people follow through. However, understanding your team processes will help to set the baseline so that you can hold people accountable.
Tip: If lack of accountability is an issue for your team, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Hold Your Team Accountable eBook, for tools and techniques to improve accountability and performance. You and your team deserve better… try the eBook today.
Team Process Improves Stability
If a new team member joins your team, a stable process helps you to bring them onboard. Without it, a new team member will be extremely confused about how they need to work. Especially when they see Bob doing things one way, and Carol doing the exact opposite.
With consistent processes, when somebody leaves your team, it’s easier for another team member to step in and fill the gap. Teams with known processes have a better understanding of the work that everybody does, because they depend on the people around them to work in a consistent way.
A defined team process reduces the key person risks in your team. If Jake gets hit by a bus, other people are more likely to know how he does his job. But if nobody ever wrote down what Jake did, you’re in trouble.
Team Process Helps You Work With Others & Reduces Risk
Teams who have defined processes are much easier to work with, because they can communicate what they do to others. These might be other teams in your organisation, or external contractors.
Whatever the case, it’s much faster to communicate a known process than it is to just work it out as you go along. Not only is it faster, it’s less risky.
In a repeatable process, you can make sure that you have the right checks in place to stop bad things happening. When you follow the steps, you catch the problems more easily and reduce the risk of serious issues.
Defining and Documenting Your Team Process
Processes are good when people know and understand them. They are even better when someone writes them down!
You don’t need to go overboard when documenting your team process. Complex process diagrams are not always necessary. What’s most important is that you have a defined set of steps to follow for your team’s usual pattern of work. There will always be variations (which should also be defined!) that will need to be catered for.
When defining your team process, consider the following aspects:
- Documentation: What forms, templates or other documents does your team need to complete, and when?
- Communication: Are there any points where your team need to communicate things? When and to whom? How is this recorded?
- Storage: If your team creates documents as part of their work, where do you store them? On a website, network folder or in a filing cabinet?
- Metrics: How long should each process step take? If your team needs to deliver something in two days, can you tell whether this has happened? Can you measure it? You need to be able to measure to see whether you’re on track.
- Monitoring: As the team leader, can you see the progress of the team’s work? If you have ten pieces of work underway, you need to be able to see where each piece is up to, so you can see whether things are going to plan. How should your team keep records so that you can monitor the progress?
Team processes are important for your team. Don’t leave things to chance. A stable, repeatable process will reduce risk, help you hold people accountable and work well with others.
Do you know how your team works? Or are you just working it out as you go along?
What are your experiences with team processes, or teams that don’t have them? Let me know in the comments below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
Thanks for the article, I agree with much of what you say, especially around improvement, accountability and stability.
“There will always be variations (which should also be defined!)” highlighted a concern for me. It’s great when everybody knows what they should be doing, when and why, but there is little chance of defining a process that covers every potential scenario. When things go off script, it’s important for team members to understand their mission and for them to be appropriately equipped with skills, tools and support. They can then make decisions and take actions that accomplish a shared goal without the need for a prescriptive process.
What are your thoughts?
That’s a good point – you are right, it’s unlikely that we are going to be able to cater for every scenario when it comes to variations in a process.
In the case where you have a highly skilled and experienced team, I think you can provide greater autonomy with less oversight. When people know what the team is trying to achieve and have the tools and support, they can make more decisions on their own.
With less experienced or skilled team members, or perhaps a distributed team where you can’t provide oversight all the time, I think it is helpful to be a little more prescriptive – to define significant common variations within your processes so they have a path to follow. Obviously as you go, you could always refine them when you come across new situations that are frequently cropping up.
Another approach is perhaps to make clear the “must have” parts of your processes, where there can be little room for variation (in areas of compliance, adhering to regulations, reducing risk etc) and then allow flexibility in the process around those points.
Thanks for the comment Andrew. To your point, I think a team with shared goals, support, skills and the right tools is always going to be in a great position to navigate any gaps in their process.