How To Improve Your Team's Work Performance

Looking to improve your team's work performance? Here's how to do it.

You’re a year into your new management role, and it’s become clear that your team isn’t doing so great.

Projects aren’t completed on time. Or if they are, they aren’t completed correctly.

Employees who thrived on other teams are underperforming on yours. Plus, a few key employees recently submitted their resignation.

It’s clear: The problem doesn’t lie with your team members. It lies with your team.

Translation: Management’s to blame.

Is it possible to boost work performance on your team?

Absolutely. In fact, there are proven strategies for boosting team performance. And they’re so helpful managers often wonder why they weren’t using them in the first place.

Oftentimes, excellent individual contributors are promoted into management positions.

As a result, they aren’t trained on what it means to be a manager.

Contrary to popular belief, management isn’t about supervision and control. It’s about defining a clear path towards an objective for your employees and helping them navigate that path.

Here are a few strategies to help you do this.

Use data to understand your team’s performance

You know what they say, “What gets measured, gets managed.”

What does success mean for your team? If you can’t answer this clearly, you’re leaving your team’s performance levels to chance.

You need to understand what success looks like and how to measure it. In other words, you need data about your team and its performance to make improvements.

To do this, start by selecting the right metrics for your team.

Your marketing team’s main metric may be the number of qualified leads generated for sales.

Your sales team’s main metric may be the number of deals closed.

Your IT operations’ team metric may be the amount of uptime.

Your development team’s metric may be the number of releases. Your customer satisfaction team’s metric may be customer satisfaction survey scores.

The list goes on.

Once you’ve identified the key metrics for your team, communicate them to everyone else. Some team members may not be aware that their work is supporting specific goals.

Furthermore, incorporate these specific metrics into individual contributors’ S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Once you know what your operational metrics are, and you’re measuring them accordingly, incorporate your employee survey data.

Your employee surveys, including your annual surveys and pulse surveys, store rich data about how your employees feel, what they want, and what motivates them.

Use technology to combine and analyze your operational metrics and your human resources metrics.

You can purchase digital solutions to help you do this.

Sparkbay’s performance module combines employee survey responses with your operational KPI data to identify specific issues having an impact on your performance and turn these insights into more effective employee empowerment strategies.

Set SMART goals for your team

Does your team understand the larger business strategy?

Every company has a business strategy or goals. It may not be formally documented at an annual retreat, but it exists either in an email somewhere or in the heads of the executive team.

As a manager, it’s important to articulate what those business goals are. A few examples of business goals are:

  • Achieve 20% market share for a specific application in Western Canada by next year Q4
  • Offer 3 new digital products to customers by next year Q3
  • Increase profit margins by 10% on this core service by developing more efficient processes using digital technology by next year Q1

What your team does fits into the 4 or 5 business goals your company has.

If you’re a marketing team, your team’s goals align with helping the business conquer more market share.

If you’re a product design team, your team’s goals align with building those 3 new digital products.

Once you’ve understood what your goals are, break them down into individual contributor goals.

For instance, a member of your team may be responsible for implementing a set of DevOps practices. These practices help the team produce better digital products faster for the business.

Then, ensure it’s a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and timebound.

Let’s use that member of your development team as an example. Their goal might be:

Implement a distributed version control program used 80% of the time by the development and operations teams by the end of Q2.

This goal is:

  • Specific: Implementing a distributed version control program.
  • Measurable: 80% adoption is expected.
  • Attainable: It is a “baby step” approach to DevOps, not a full-blown DevOps program.
  • Realistic/Relevant: It matters to the company because they’re trying to roll out new digital products faster.
  • Timebound: It’s clear when these results should be achieved by.

Setting individual goals, and sharing them with the team, increases transparency and collaboration. People understand what everyone else is doing and why they’re doing it.

This strengthens relationships as people share resources and information to work towards their individual and team objectives.

Plus, S.M.A.R.T. goals give team members the context they need to be proactive and creative without getting derailed.

Once you’ve set your S.M.A.R.T. goals, create key performance indicators and schedule check-in meetings with your team.

During these meetings, you can see where an employee is on track to meeting their goal, where they’re encountering difficulties, and what support they need to be successful.

Create and cultivate a feedback culture

If you want a high performing team, you need a feedback culture.

In a feedback culture, employees feel comfortable not only receiving feedback but giving it as well. It’s welcomed and seen as a productive exercise.

In teams with a feedback culture, employees are encouraged to learn and grow. They work in an environment of psychological safety.

Plus, they’re able to experiment and act creatively within the company. This is something that will only get more and more valuable as the economy grows more and more competitive.

So how do you create a feedback culture?

First, understand that a feedback culture doesn’t develop overnight. You may feel passionate about its importance, but your team could have other opinions.

On the receiving side, they may view feed as a sign they’re in trouble.

On the giving side, they may view it as a faux pas to give constructive criticism to their peers when they’re not their superior.

So be patient. It’ll take time.

A good starting point is to lead by example and demonstrate what it means to give useful feedback. Here are a few tips:

  • Base your feedback on what you observe, not assumptions you make. For instance, “I notice when you submit this, you do this. I would suggest you take this approach. What do you think?” As opposed to deconstructive feedback like, “Don’t do that again” or “We don’t do things like that around here.”
  • Make your feedback about behavior, not the individual. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re not good at your job” or “You’re not performing well” consider discussing specific actions that are leading to poor outcomes. “This approach didn’t work for this reason. Here’s an approach you might want to consider.”
  • Always include a recommendation or solution. This doesn’t mean you have to give the recipient the answer. But you should point them in the right direction? Otherwise, what’s the point of having a team if you just go in and fix the work yourself.

Normalize feedback by doling it out daily. Team leaders have a tendency to save feedback for special events like an annual review or a massive screw up.

Annual reviews don’t happen often enough. And the entire point of a feedback culture is to avoid such massive screw ups.

Ask your team for feedback as well. Building trust is an important part of developing a feedback culture, so it’s important to turn feedback delivery into a two-way process.

Once you receive feedback from your employees, respond positively so they know future feedback is accepted. Implement it, too. Otherwise, people won’t bother speaking up with suggestions.

In addition, spread positive feedback on its own and regularly. Managers have a tendency to use positive feedback as a buffer for negative feedback. This devalues positive feedback.

Instead, share it on its own and share it often. And don’t save it for big wins either! Small accomplishments are worth acknowledgement as well.

Moreover, they’re educational for others who want to up their performance, too.

In addition, look for opportunities to give feedback publicly. Public recognition builds employee morale.

Stop having so many meetings (or make meetings more efficient)

Unnecessary meetings – or unnecessarily long meetings – kill productivity.

If you’re going to have a meeting, only invite the people necessary to make a decision. Then, have them report the main points back to the rest of the team.

Keep meetings as short as possible and focused on a specific objective.

Write an agenda and send it out to all meeting invitees in advance.

Set the expectation that everyone reads the document before they come to the meeting.

Finally, keep the meeting disciplined.

Over the course of a meeting, different ideas crop up. Plus, charismatic or combative personalities may monopolize the conversation. Don’t let the meeting be derailed.

To do this, implement a zero tolerance policy for anyone that argues without facts or data to back up their claims. This way, strong personalities can’t take the meeting off course.

Create training opportunities for your team members

If your team underperforms in a specific area, it might be a sign they need additional training.

It’s up to you to provide that support. If you hired the right people, they’ll appreciate it. Superstar employees crave professional development and learning opportunities. As a manager, it’s up to you to present those opportunities and ensure those opportunities align with business objectives.

Start by asking your team where they feel ill prepared or unequipped to do their jobs. A pulse survey can help you gather these results fairly quickly.

Once you’ve identified areas where your team could use additional training, ask your HR team or learning and development department to develop a formal training program.

If these resources aren’t available in house, you could ask your leadership team to approve a stipend for external training.

Delegate tasks to your team

You hired your team (or chose to keep them). Now trust them by delegating effectively.

As your team’s workload grows, delegate tasks to individual contributors.

When you delegate a task, provide clear instructions and articulate your expectations about deliverables and timing.

Don’t assume that delegation means you’re handing off work. On the face of it, asking someone to do something may feel irresponsible and lazy. On the contrary, delegation is how you remain effective as a manager.

If you’re focused on tasks that your team can accomplish, you have less energy for the critical responsibilities in your job description. This includes activities like building relationships with other teams, securing resources for your direct reports, and eliminating obstacles.

Delegation helps you build the overall competencies of your team. Each time someone learns how to do something you’ve delegated, the team’s collective value goes up.

FInally, be mindful of internal biases. There are two major biases that impact managers’ ability to delegate work. One is the belief that no one can do the work as well as they can. Another is that supervised work generates the best results. Both biases undermine the overall performance of your team.

Understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses

One of the benefits of a team is its diversity of talents and opinions. Poor managers try to shoehorn every team member into their definition of a good employee.

Great managers take the time to understand each employee’s strengths and weaknesses and structure the team accordingly.

Sure, there are core competencies that each employee should have.

After all, you wouldn’t hire a developer that listed “software development” as their weakness.

But there are other important skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem solving that exist in different proportions within team members.

How can you assess your employees’ strengths and weaknesses?

First, have direct and open conversations. Ask them what they feel they excel at and where they think they need support. If their answers are vague, push for specific examples.

If these conversations don’t generate many insights, assign different tasks to your employees. Put them in new situations to see how they behave.

Does a superstar performer fall apart when tasked with a new situation where they need to adapt quickly?

Does a quieter employee thrive when they’re given a project that requires careful consideration and critical thinking?

Shaking things up can reveal interesting insights about your team.

Eliminate excessive tasks that are draining your team’s energy

Where do your team members spend most of their time?

Do they spend hours per week in meetings when they should be working on specific tasks?

Do they have to manage a lot of unnecessary paperwork that could be streamlined?

Do they have to spend time going back and forth by email to receive a piece of information from or schedule a meeting?

All of these small tasks drain employees’ energy.

By the time they’re done in a meeting or retrieving details from the product team for a marketing campaign, their energy for the day is shot.

Not much energy remains for the value-generating work they would’ve liked to complete if they hadn’t spent so much time on those tasks.

How can you as a manager eliminate these tasks? You can start by:

  • Conducting a process audit to determine how many tasks are actually necessary
  • Streamlining your processes
  • Introducing digital tools for better team communication, collaboration, and scheduling
  • Reducing the number of meetings per week or setting strict rules on when a team member can hold or attend a meeting

Give team members the freedom to work remotely or on a flexible schedule

Studies show that remote teams are often more productive due to reduced distractions and less time commuting. Add this to the money saved on office space and there’s little justification for forcing employees to come in.

If your team needs flexibility, be flexible.

People have different responsibilities and as a result, may need to complete their work at different hours.

With the exception of client-facing meetings or team projects, it’s not necessary for an employee to be in the office by 9am when they’d like to drop their kids off at school.

If you’ve hired well, you should already have a team that has the integrity and the accountability to finish their work on time, whether it’s from home or at the office.

If you’ve done the other things to boost your team’s performance, like setting clear S.M.A.R.T. goals, you shouldn’t need to have people within eyeshot at all times.

Offering flexibility also allows you to build trust and goodwill within your team.

It’s entirely possible to boost work performance on your team

Your job as a manager is to get the best out of your employees. If your team is underperforming, there are steps you can take to improve. Management is about helping talented people apply their individual skills to a collective goal. Once you understand this, you’ll view your team in different ways and feel empowered to take the steps necessary to get results.