How your lean team can work smarter

Make sure that every member of the team has clarity on their roles. [iStockphoto]

Small businesses, by nature, rely on lean teams to get work done. It’s therefore very important to ensure that every member is contributing to their highest level.

Founders of lean start-ups must be committed to creating smooth processes that eliminate waste and promote constant incremental improvements.

For instance, you should have systems in place to ensure that each employee has properly prioritised their tasks. You should avoid situations where employees focus a significant amount of their valuable time on less important tasks.

Creating and maintaining systems that help employees work smarter instead of harder improves efficiency, productivity, and ultimately, profitability. It also helps boost job satisfaction for your team, which improves your employee retention rates.

Here are a few powerful tips to help your lean team work smarter, not harder.

Set realistic goals

Since small teams are focused on achieving goals, the first step is to make sure that those goals are realistic and achievable. In a 2015 study published in Science Direct, researchers found that even without a financial incentive, goal-setting improved worker performance by 12 to 15 per cent compared to the situation where goals weren’t defined. The findings hold true for settings where teams had to maximize either output quantity or output quality, as well as for teams that were obliged to be as energy-efficient as possible.

To become great at goal-setting, always follow the 'SMART' principle. Your goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, results-oriented, and time-bound. Having goals that are not properly defined can make your staff disorganised and unmotivated.

While you want your team to think big, don’t set goals that are too big. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Break down your goals into small, actionable steps for daily, weekly, and monthly action. Come up with a system to check the team’s performance and celebrate the achievement of specific milestones.

Define roles and responsibilities

In small businesses, there’s an expectation that employees will have to perform tasks outside their primary roles. However, pushing employees into tasks they’re not skilled at slows down productivity and efficiency.

Make sure that every member of the team has clarity on their roles and responsibilities, focusing on their strengths and capabilities. Select and hire every team member strategically to have the right mix of skills and personalities. Each individual should be like a small puzzle piece that fits perfectly and completes the whole.

Embrace diversity and inclusion

To maximise success, business leaders should also prioritize diversity. A McKinsey report that covered 366 public companies in various countries and industries found that those which had more diversity performed significantly better than their more homogenous counterparts.

However, boosting diversity numbers in your team isn’t enough. You must also create systems that support a culture of inclusivity. According to a 2020 study by Gartner, inclusive teams perform up to 30 per cent better in high-diversity environments. Supporting inclusivity boosts a sense of belonging for your employees, which according to research, can increase job performance by 56 per cent or more and reduce turnover by as much as 50 per cent.

Automate routine tasks

One of the fastest ways to boost the efficiency of a small team is by using technology to automate routine tasks. Research by McKinsey found that today’s technology can automate up to 45 per cent of all labor tasks. You can automate tasks in all company departments including HR, sales, marketing, accounting, and so on.

Look at which tasks take a lot of time for your team. Is there a way to have them automated? Automation is most effective for tasks that are repetitive, time-consuming, and easy for algorithms to handle without human input.

Examples of tasks that can be easily automated include scheduling social media posts, creating analytics reports, sending invoices once a task is completed, scoring leads based on user actions, and sending marketing emails based on user actions. Don’t automate tasks that require human input and creativity such as creating content for your blog or problem-solving. 

Keep meetings to a minimum

Before setting a meeting, ask yourself if you’ll achieve the desired results with an email. Studies show that the average employee attends as many as eight meetings per week. Those in more senior positions can attend as many as 17 meetings per week. Crazy, right?

Meetings can be time-consuming and tedious. A one-hour meeting doesn’t cost you just one hour. It costs you one hour for each employee who attended. Therefore, if you have ten employees, you could easily lose eighty or more hours of precious work time every week to meetings that could have been emails.

In addition to the actual time spent in meetings, poor scheduling can wreak havoc on your team’s creativity and productivity. That’s why smart entrepreneurs come up with ruthless tactics to avoid wasteful meetings.

For instance, Jeff Bezos has a two-pizza policy for meetings. Basically, if two pizzas can’t feed the group attending a meeting, then the meeting is too large to be productive. Elon Musk encourages his employees to hop out of meetings if they’re not adding value.

You don’t have to implement Musk’s or Bezos’ meeting tactics. However, look for ways to reduce meetings in your small organisation to avoid wasting valuable employee time. If possible, keep meetings to 30 minutes or less.