How to Avoid Overloading Your Team
Most of our successful mid-market clients have no shortage of great ideas. The constraint lies with the time and resources to get it all done. It doesn’t matter how many brilliant growth strategies your team comes up with in your annual planning session if there’s nobody with the capacity to get anything else done. Focusing on only a few top priorities is difficult but critical for your success. Tempting as it is, piling new initiatives on top of an already overloaded team will have numerous negative consequences for the individuals, team and company as a whole.
What Are the Costs of Team Overload?
- Missed deadlines
- Long hours, fatigue and burnout
- Quality of work suffers
- Mistakes and rework more common
- Frustration, increased stress
- Confusion about priorities
- Apathy, fewer new ideas, less capacity for innovation
- Risk of safety incidents increases
- Cynicism and skepticism
- Projects lose momentum
- More absences, sick days
- Decline in productivity
- Increased turnover of employees
- Unhappy customers
- Morale and work culture suffer
I think we can all agree these are outcomes we’d prefer to avoid. So, how can we move forward with our growth strategies, do our day jobs and not go crazy?
How to Prevent Overload from Happening
- Start with a clear understanding of each person’s day job. Job Scorecards can help with this. Knowing the parameters of each person’s role, understanding the time commitments involved in meeting their key desired results and clarifying the non-negotiable responsibilities of each person will help you know who on the team has what capacity for taking on growth priorities.
- Look for hidden priorities. Even if you have clearly defined Job Scorecards for each person, we live in an ever-changing world. Scope-creep happens all the time - maybe it is a pet project that someone just can’t let go of, an attempt to be helpful to another colleague or department who is overloaded or a lack of understanding of what work is truly important or urgent. Doing a quarterly Start-Stop-Keep exercise for the team can help identify things that are sucking the team’s time but no longer adding value, and you might consider having each person on the team keep a calendar or log of how they are spending working hours for a couple of weeks. They may be surprised to find that the marketing project they volunteered to help with is taking up 6 hours a week.
- Be collaborative in planning. Often teams get overloaded because the executive team setting the plan for the quarter doesn’t have the full picture of what’s already on the departmental plates. Involve the departments in the prep work for your planning session so you can have an understanding of what they’ve already committed to finishing, what may be on their calendar that you haven’t considered, etc. Rather than a top-down planning approach, be collaborative in gathering information and sharing plans with the different teams in your company so you can make informed decisions.
- Make tough decisions. Once you’ve understood the team’s workload and bandwidth, you’ll know whether you have the capacity to tackle those growth priorities now or not. As I said before, you will probably have more great ideas than you could possibly implement, so use an objective framework to focus on the top few things for right now. Choose the handful of growth strategies that will have the biggest impact and require the resources you have the ability to devote at the time. Depending on what you have on your plates already, you may only be able to work on advancing one or two strategic items in a quarter.
- Get specific. Be clear about what exactly you are trying to accomplish in the time period you have. Use Red-Yellow-Green to define what success and failure are for the initiative, and break the goal down into smaller, sub-priorities. Set dates, assign owners and be really clear about who needs to do what by when.
- Allocate resources. Face the facts. When you are realistic about the scope of what you need to accomplish, do you have the team in place to get it done? Do you need to outsource something? Do you need to hire?
- Make adjustments. The best laid plans can sometimes get blown up in the heat of battle. That IT project that was supposed to take a week ends up taking a month, or the big deal that you were counting on closing falls through and then the whole quarter is a mess and everyone is scrambling. When this happens, don’t throw up your hands or resign yourselves to pulling all-nighters. Gather the team together, look at the impact of the new circumstance, consider alternative options to still meet your goals, and go to Plan B if needed. There may be other priorities that can move to next quarter so the team can focus on making adjustments. Don’t wait until the quarter is over and it’s too late to course-correct.
- Listen. This is the most critical piece to the puzzle. As the leader, pay attention to your team. If you start noticing the signs of burn out, take action. Be open and transparent with your team, and let them know that it is safe to raise a hand for help when they are feeling overloaded. Work to build trust with the team, and model the behavior of saying no when you can’t possibly take on one more thing.
Good luck, and happy planning!
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