Productivity for groups

Andrew Yang — №2 with Guy Kawasaki

Quick quiz. If you take a group of people who are individually productive, do you automatically have a productive group? Some strategies and tactics for improving personal productivity can be applied to groups. However, when you add multiple people to the mix you are guaranteed to have unpredictability and possibly terrible dysfunction.

There are a great many books written on leadership and teams but most of these excellent works are focused on corporate teams. However, many groups operate outside of work such as sports teams, hobby groups, political action groups, faith groups, playgroups, support groups, even families. Different than corporate teams, these groups don’t have an authoritative boss structure and many groups have no say in who joins. Despite these limitations, these teams can be highly productive.

Understand the motivations

Don’t assume you know what everyone wants. Why are members participating and what do they hope to get out of it. Good alignment with your members improves motivation and participation. For example, you may have some players on a sports team who want to win the league championship and others who just want to learn or play for fun.  While everyone is playing the same sport, they may have wildly differing goals, and expectations. The best thing to do is to spend time with each member (or as many as practically possible), ask open-ended questions and LISTEN.

Craft, communicate and agree on a good set of goals — once you understand what people individually want, set up goals that the group can largely agree on. You may be surprised on how difficult this can be. Hard but good choices have to be made.

You may need to do a reset for some members whose individual goals don’t match. For example, parents in a playgroup may want the kids to just focus on socializing while others may want religious-based instruction. Better to air out these differences early than find out later. Be careful of trying to be all things to all people. Many goals take a significant amount of commitment and resources and to try to make everybody happy often ends up making nobody happy.  Understand your fellow members’ goals and collectively agree on a good set of clear, specific goals.

Put together a plan

Once the goals are established, put together a plan to accomplish the goal. Brainstorm with the group to find the right projects and activities to undertake.  The best ideas rarely come from one individual.  Solicit opinions from other similar groups. Some savvy searching on the Web should uncover plenty of best practices and ideas that you can borrow for your group.

Break long-term projects into manageable chunks. Make each chunk have an owner and a deliverable and monitor their progress. Ask often for status and whether anything that might block progress. Putting together a good plan and schedule of activities will help make the group excited and engaged.  Monitor frequently.

Establish rules of engagement

Some people are naturally process-heavy and others completely lack process. Find a happy medium. Create your own “rules of engagement”.

Devote time in establishing how your group engages with each other and makes decisions. Then lead by example. Repeat.

Social engineering for results

The great thing about groups is that they can be much greater than the sum of its parts. Mixing personalities, experience, skills and operating styles unleash creativity and efficiency. Of course monitor these groups closely. Sometimes there’s not enough common ground to make the group operate effectively. When creating subteams, think about the right mix of individuals. A team of stars may not be better than a balanced team whose members complement each other well.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

Nothing makes members feel more involved in the group than when they take ownership. When leaders delegate, they not only reduce their workload, but also get much needed “buy-in” from people who are involved in the process. Let the “critic” own the problem — often their passion will get the best results.  Where possible, get volunteers and let them take responsibility for important things that make a difference.

Keep everyone on the same page – groups can quickly dissolve from lack of activity and communication.  When it comes to people’s increasingly busy schedules, group activities can take a back seat to that urgent thing that regularly pops up.   Setting up a group web page and group email is a great way to help provide indirect cohesion across time and space. Communicate early and often. Set up a central website, shared calendar, automated reminders and group email to help provide needed communication infrastructure for the group for direct and indirect communication. Complement the real-life interactions with virtual interactions.

Putting it all together

Putting together a group of people always makes things interesting. While a group is composed of a collection of individuals with specific goals, motivations and skills, the collective can have its own goals, motivations and skills too. With a little proper guidance, a well functioning group can be a thing of beauty that can accomplish things that no individual can.

Photo: Flickr / Kevin H. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang was COO at Qlubb, a leading provider of social collaboration solutions for real-life groups. Andrew has served in various executive roles at several Silicon Valley firms and was a management consultant in previous life. Andrew has been an active participant, leader and provider of solutions for many non-work groups and corporate teams.

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