How to Improve Team Productivity in 3 Steps: Assess, Catch & Report

September 9, 2019

By: John Sandahl


You’ve built a team with your direct reports. You meet fairly regularly, and the conversation is always polite and respectful but rarely inspired. The team’s results are, similarly rarely inspired. But your company needs your team to pick up the pace and start generating more results. Sound familiar?

Or perhaps you have a team that’s shown high-performing results, but for some reason has lost its mojo. Or, like many leaders, you know that your team’s performance can be improved but you’re not sure how to make improvements without putting the current performance at risk.

How to Build an Effective Team

If you’re looking to improve your team’s productivity and performance, but you’re not sure exactly where to start, try this three-step process: Assess, Catch and Report.

1. Thorough and Actionable Assessment

Many leaders make the mistake of rushing to make structural and/or process improvement changes to a team before they really know what the problem is. You may know the players well but teams are VERY complex systems, so changing behaviors on teams can become a whole different issue.

To make sure you are moving things in the right direction, start with a thorough and actionable form of assessment. Our Team Leadership Assessment measures a team’s performance against 14 proven team performance indicators. With this tool you can uncover your team’s productivity profile to improve overall performance and their work environment. We offer this service for free to anyone who’d like to take it — learn more about the Team Leadership Assessment to get started.

2. Catch Them Doing the Right Thing

This is a great way you can improve a team’s productivity almost immediately, and even without a full assessment. All you have to do is stay aware of positive things your employees are doing to either get results or improve internal processes. Then, before your next meeting, look for and comment on things your team members have done well (and that others could maybe even learn from!).

These opportunities to “catch them doing the right thing” — and call them out— build a sense of connection and trust with you and the team. They also train the team in a role-modeling way, by incentivizing the behaviors you’d like to see more regularly.

Here are some examples of things you might say:

  • “Jane, that comment really gets to the heart of the matter. I can tell it took courage for you to say it, and it’s the kind of thing that we all should be doing more. Thanks for taking speaking up.”
  • “Bill, I know that you’ve got strong feelings about this topic, but I noticed you holding back to make sure that we heard from our newer members and that you didn’t take over the conversation. It really helps us make this team work better. Keep it up.”

3. After Action Report (AAR)

Build in an extra 15 minutes into your team meeting agenda and have a conversation “about the conversation.”

A common practice in the military is to hold an “After Action Report” where teams discuss what happened and how to learn/improve from what happened. In the business world, teams usually do this at the end of a large project or initiative, but almost never do it at the end of a regular meeting, when the experiences are fresh.

How AAR’s can help you improve team productivity:
During the AAR, the goal isn’t to rehash the conversation; it’s to build out the teaming qualities (trust, conflict handling, etc.) But all too often, this post-meeting feedback gets shuttled into a one-on-one talk with individuals, which steals learning opportunities from the rest of the team. It also creates potential for more secrecy, exclusion, and mistrust. Therefore, it’s better to take an extra minute or two to get the team to do it in the moment, especially when an opportunity comes up for your team to learn more from one another.

You might not be ready to make the time to do an AAR during every meeting, but as a team gets more experience you can bet that they’ll likely get faster with these debriefings.

How to start incorporating AAR’s after a meeting:
Try asking everyone to write down one thing they did during the meeting that helped the team and one thing they could have done (or done differently) to improve the team. Then, as a leader, you should be the first one to share your answers. This creates more psychological safety and helps set the tone that mistakes are necessary for real learning.

Reward any statement that seems to take courage from the speaker—especially if they are providing critical feedback for you as the leader. The goal of this whole process is to make it safe to speak your mind, so you’ll need to lean into that safety—even if it means not challenging other views of you (at least initially).

How to Build a Successful Team for the Long Haul

Try our three steps on how to build an effective team for yourself and reach out to us with your questions or concerns. Need help understanding how to further improve your team or what you may be missing? We’ve coached thousands of business professionals, CEOs, entrepreneurs and more on how to grow their business and team’s potential. Learn more about us and consult with one of our coaches today.

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