Five tips for improving your team's productivity

Layoffs and bad news can bring down any team's productivity. Here are some tactics to help you keep your team focused and positive.

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

That comment was made by the great management guru, Peter F. Drucker. I shared it with a client a few weeks ago as we discussed his team's performance and the differences between being efficient and being effective. The last is all about making a genuine difference to outcomes -- something particularly important in these times when layoffs abound.

Keeping team members motivated and performing at the top of their game is especially difficult right now. If you're feeling overwhelmed, or it seems as though the job just keeps getting harder, think how some of your team members are probably feeling. If they're worried about their own job, paying bills, or the fate of a loved one, it's unlikely they are doing their best work. That reduced effectiveness could, ironically, create a worse situation for them if it results in fewer jobs or reduced pay.

It's to the benefit of all concerned that you help them keep working at full steam. Here are a few best practices we've seen used successfully by strong leaders across a wide swath of industries and organizations. If you or your team could use some new approaches, I suggest you add some of these to your own management toolbox:

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our IT Leadership blog.

1: Lead by example

You send messages to your team members with every action and statement. If you're seen to be giving extra, it will inspire and energize others to do the same. The same holds true for the opposite: Showing fear or frustration will only fuel similar results within the team.

2:Focus on communicating objectives rather than defining roles

With fewer human resources, now's the time to reassess your key deliverables. Which of them make an immediate impact and what can be punted for now? Engage as many of the team as possible on the most important goals; even if that move takes them outside their old job definitions.

3: Maintain a sense of urgency

Keep goals, both individual and team, front and center to ensure focus. Broadcast and talk about results and achievements. Especially if you've had to reduce headcount, you want each individual performing at optimal levels. Note I say "optimal" and not "maximum." The former is good management practice; the latter results in burnout and negativity.

4: Celebrate individual contributions

Sports teams are clear about the fact that certain players make a bigger difference, so they recognize those people appropriately. For high performers, hearing only about the "team's performance" can actually demotivate them and cause them to slow down to the "norm."

5: Provide guidelines to reduce uncertainty

Trusting your team to do the right thing is well and good; but in uncertain times, even your best team members can make improper decisions. Help them with frequent reviews of goals, new or successful past approaches, and preferred outcomes during regular team meetings.

Other tips?

Being a leader is more than being a manager. It requires empathy, attitude, and skill. The effort is worth it. What approaches have you taken to keep your team functioning smoothly in the face of adversity?

Check out Five Tips... the newsletter

Get a concise roundup of solutions and techniques that will make your IT job go more smoothly. TechRepublic's Five Tips newsletter, delivered every Tuesday, gives you instant access to the information you need. Automatically sign up today.

By John McKee

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...