Home Wealth Philosophy The one question that massively increases your team’s productivity

The one question that massively increases your team’s productivity

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In last week’s article, I shared with you five truths about life that I learned from working on a building site. Well, this week, I’ve got just one incredibly powerful technique that you can start using today that will see you and your team’s productivity soar.

This is a technique that I’ve most frequently used from the top-down i.e. from managerial positions. And I was interested to see what would happen if I tried and incorporated this technique from the bottom-up i.e. from the “lowest” rank job. So, when I was on the site, I got to fulfil that role. I was an “Unskilled labourer,” this is roughly the same level of employment as “lackey” or “minion”. Something needs to be moved? That’s on you. Big hole needs digging? Grab your spade, kid. Someone needs to spend all day behind a drill? All up to you, buddy.

When we have non-managerial positions in a company, it can feel like we have very little control over what actually happens. But this isn’t true. Whenever you’re in a group setting, you’re in a team. All of you use your individual skills, abilities, and wisdom, to solve whatever problem has been put in front of you.

In this article, I’m going to share with you guys my one super-powerful, super-simple, technique for dramatically increasing productivity and then tell you why it’s so effective.

Constantly be asking “What’s next?”

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There you go, it really is that simple. Whenever you complete your task, just ask your team, “what’s next?” Or, if you’d prefer to say it in corporate-speak, “what can I be doing to most effectively help us reach our desired outcome?”

Whether you’re a managerial-level guy, asking this question of your team, or a kitchen porter at a restaurant, asking, “what’s next?” will kick everyone into high-gear.

Now, I can understand why some of you are hesitant to fully embrace this concept. You’re probably worried that if you’re asking “what’s next” from a “lower” position you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing, and if you ask it from a “higher” position you’re worried that the team won’t respect you. These are reasonable fears, but (like most fears) unfounded.

Why this productivity hack works from the bottom-up

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Alright, so you’re scared that you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing if you ask “what’s next?” There are three things to bear in mind. The first is that if you already have a plan in action, then you’re 100 per cent correct, you should just follow the plan. However, whenever you complete a task, send a quick email/whatsapp/text to your manager saying “I’ve just completed x, and am going to start on y”. This simple sharing of information not only shows off just how much work you’re completing but also informs the manager about what’s going on. By sharing this  unprompted (which, believe me, is a huge boon).

The second thing is this, you can phrase the question any way you want. If you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing next, you can say, “I’ve just completed x, would you like me to do y or z next?” This shows that you know exactly what you should be doing next, with the added benefit of communicating the fact that you complete tasks and you’ve effectively chosen what you’re going to do next. When given a choice, humans will rarely go for an option not given to them. Especially, in a situation where we’re already focused on something else.

The final point is this; it helps your manager stay on track. If people are asking them “what’s next?” It forces them to constantly be thinking about the best possible course of action to take. Having someone on a team that is always looking for the next task to complete is a fantastic addition that helps everyone stay on track.

Why this productivity hack works from the top-down

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When I first started asking my team “what’s next?” I was worried about two things; that they wouldn’t respect me, and that they’d think I was always on their backs. Incredibly, they respected me more, and enjoyed working with me!

Looking back at it now, the reason they respected me as a manager more was because through asking them what they wanted me to do next, they saw that my goal was completing the project/hitting the KPI/reaching the target. I wasn’t asking them to perform tasks to feed my own ego, nor was I just laying back whilst the rest of the team did the work. Similarly, because we’d communicated what they needed from me, the communication could work both ways, and everyone knew what each team member was doing.

On top of the reasons just mentioned, by being humble and asking the team how I could help them the most, the feeling was reciprocated. They knew I was working hard to help them do their jobs, so they worked hard to help me with mine.

When you take on a leadership role, people expect you to know what’s going on and what’s happening at all times. It’s a lot of responsibility and it can be difficult to deliver satisfaction to both your team and the client/boss/end-user. With that said, when you are a leader, your team wants and needs you to help them stay motivated and on track with what they’re trying to do. If you ask a team member “what’s next?” and they don’t know what to do, take some time to work through the question with them.

Similarly, if your team can see that their leader is focused on completing the goal and persistently getting involved with understanding what’s going on (not micromanaging mind you) then they will gain that level of focus too.

So…What’s next?

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Before you set the hearts and minds of your team on fire with this simple technique, here are some general rules for both sides to remember:

General guidelines

  • Until you and your team get into the rhythm of things, “what’s next?” Can be misconstrued as too casual or rude. Find ways to explain that you’ve completed one job and that, unless they need help with something, you’d like to get on with x
  • The strength of the technique is based on sharing information about which jobs have been done, and which jobs are currently being worked on. Be sure to include this information when you speak to anyone
  • Another strength of this technique is to keep everyone focused on the goal at hand, if you’re comfortable enough add a, “whilst I get on with x, it would be a huge help to me if you could get on with y”. This demonstrates how tasks link together and reinforces joint ownership of the goal

Top-down

  • Let your team know what it is that you’re doing to help them, and what your next steps are
  • You’re not micromanaging, allow your team to go out and complete the tasks by themselves. Encourage them to talk to you when they’ve finished their current task
  • Lead by example

Bottom-up

  • The basic message that you need to communicate is “I’m completing lots of work, I’m eager to work more, what priorities do you have for me?” However, simply asking “What’s next?” may not communicate that message, experiment and see what works
  • Offering tasks that you’d like to do when asking what to do next will massively increase your chance of getting to do them
  • Don’t limit asking “what’s next?” to your Manager, remember that you’re in a team

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For more productivity advice check out:

Why being “busy” is a waste of time

3 philosophies you need to operate a successful business

5 key lessons to balance your business and your life

Image Credits: Crystal, Kaique Rocha .

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