While this is not a new concept, our clients are showing a renewed interest in becoming leaner in response to the pandemic. While some organizations may be reactive in reducing their staff, others are trying to apply the lessons learned from the “work from home” experiment of 2020. In the case of the latter, their actions are proactive.
Lesson 1: Having People Around Impedes Performance
A Stanford University study says employees who work at home are 13% more productive than employees who work in the office. Why is that? We asked our client’s employees why this was true. I included among the reasons was that they are losing less time in distracting interpersonal interactions.
For example, our CMO’s son Ryan works for a large pharma advertising agency and has a team of six. When asked if he missed the ability to collaborate via spur of moment meetings at people’s cubes, offices, and lunch rooms, he said “absolutely not. Everyone is on Slack and sees everyone’s calendar so important interaction and collaboration still happens.” It’s not just 30 somethings, the 50 year old founder of a prestigious marketing firm who invested significantly in a cool Apple and Google-like office in Manhattan took a poke at the collision theories of Tony Hsieh by saying that much of the serendipitous communication and collaboration was “serendipitous distraction.”
One lesson we learned from the great work at home experiment of 2020 is that having fewer people around seems to assist in total productivity.
Lesson 2: Having People Around Improves Performance
It is easy to overreact and assume that interpersonal relationships are bad for productivity. However, that would ignore all of the research on social facilitation that goes back as far as 1898, when Norman Triplett studied bicycle racing. He observed that many cyclists seemed to ride faster when they were racing with other riders. Analysis of the cycling association’s records showed better times in races than in single qualifying events in which the rider was trying to achieve their best time. Since then, thousands of studies have shown that having people around improves performance. Even the Stanford University research mentioned earlier suggested that face-to-face meetings are essential for generating new ideas and maintaining the focus and motivation of staff.
When Tony Hsieh talked about collisionable hours, he was not as interested in productivity as he was in innovation. In other words, the collisions did not lead to more ideas, just better ones.
Dave, the founder of Psynet Group, indicates that sitting next to our Director of IT has generated valuable ideas “on the spot” but also noted times when the continuous distractions have kept him from getting much done the entire day.
Lesson 3: Both Lessons 1 and 2 are True
The solution is to maximize the interactions that bring value and minimize the ones that impede productivity.
How can organizations get the benefits of social facilitation and collaboration while minimizing the interactions that kill productivity?
When Psynet Group works to restructure an organization, our goal is to create an executive team that is as small as possible but no smaller. Creating a lean team allows enough space for what is necessary and eliminates obstacles that can distract from the purpose. By becoming leaner, teams can:
Limit Distractions and Time-Sucks
- Avoid losing time and energy on emotional engagement among the leaders (less likely to argue, be offended, gossip, etc.).
- Increase agility. When decisions have to be agreed upon by a smaller total, the process is more efficient and less likely to get bottlenecked by a more convoluted process. A bigger group makes it more difficult to make an efficient course change.
- Confidently delegating the decision making. Holding on to decision-making results in direct reports failing to develop this crucial ability.
Improve Social Facilitation
- Genuinely connect and build trust with one another. People generally can really only make deeper connections with a smaller number of people.
- Maintain a higher accountability. When the number is smaller, it’s harder to hide. Everyone must actively participate in the process.
The Dark Side of Lean Teams
While a lean team has many desirable attributes, there are pitfalls that should be considered.
Fewer people could provide less opportunity for diversity of thought. A high functioning team has the ability to provide various perspectives and approach problems in different ways.
When hiring into a leaner team, there is a potential to hire people that are like minded and easily fit in the team. While we want people who possess similar values and mesh well with the team, there is a great value in having people in the group who can take a contrary position and whose backgrounds and experiences are vastly different.
An additional thought –there is a somewhat dark side to a lean team during the pandemic. Given the current work realities related to COVID-19, teams are functioning within a hybrid or completely remote manner. This requires a leaner team to have less face to face time and increased ability to function at a higher level independently.
How to Avoid Potential Obstacles When Going Lean
Psynet Group works with organizations to find the sweet spot between too many interactions and not enough. We do this by:
- Assessing for diverse thinking style.
- Developing very clear role mandates or job descriptions that clarify decision making.
- Being deliberate in how decision making is pushed out AND what markers indicate a capability to take on more responsibility.
- Focusing on trust building by increasing each leader’s awareness of other leaders’ capabilities, character and personality.
- Selecting leaders who are humble and focus on the team and organization instead of their own ego.
If you have ever questioned whether your team is working in the most optimal and efficient way, it may mean working with less could result in more. Curious to think through this further? Reach out to Psynet Group to learn more.