DiBona & Associates
DiBona & Associates

How to Manage Short-Staffed Teams - 6 steps to get more done

09.06.22 03:00 PM By Noel DiBona

The problem – too much to do and too little time.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Do you have too much to do and too little time? Are you constantly fighting fires? Maybe it’s not perfect for you, but you’re keeping your head above water.

Either way, being overworked is not a healthy way to live. According to a 2019 report published by the People’s Project, the average American works more hours than the average worker in any peer nation. And if you are working 55 or more hours a week, you are dramatically increasing your risk for physical and mental health issues.

Chances are you’re working hard because your organization has experienced the loss of some key staff over the last few months. Or maybe your organization is experiencing a dramatic increase in workload due to current market conditions. New initiatives? New technologies? Can’t find the right people to hire? Whatever the case may be.

If you are in a similar situation, a few things will help you gain additional productive capacity with your team.

The good news is that most teams are working well below their potential at only 50-65% efficiency.

Would it help to have an extra couple of team members to get more done? If so, read on.

The Solution

1. First things first – evaluate your team. You need to ask some basic questions about your team without bias. How many people on your team do more than their share of the work? Do you have any slackers? Is the team communicating well, or do they only interact with each other when there is a problem? Is everyone clear on what their job is? Is there a concise list of core tasks, or is everyone just doing bunches of functions?

2. Have everyone log their time for two to four weeks. You will learn a lot about your team when you see the data. You will know if you have anyone on the team that isn’t sure about their role, broken processes, or obstacles getting in the way of completing work. This data will provide you with opportunities to get the team more productive. An excellent way to log time is to segment the following:
  • Core work activities – this is what the team is responsible for.
  • Time in meetings
  • Time answering email
  • Time as a result of interruptions

3. Evaluate who is the best at each of the core activities and how you might assign work from now on. Develop a roster using the attributes of each team member. Implement a buddy system of pairing up teammates. When someone is out sick or on vacation, their buddy is their backup.

4. Establish a more robust process to forecast, plan, and assign work weekly. You can establish a meeting cadence of weekly kickoff meetings on Monday, informal check-ins on Wednesday, and a wrap-up meeting on Friday to identify the biggest obstacle to success. As the team gains more productive capacity, you can use the time to attack some of the barriers and further increase the team’s productive capacity.

5. Restrict meetings to thirty to forty-five minutes. Have a block of time each day, not allowing any meetings.

6. Get the fun back into work. Make a group lunch or after-work group activity every three months. If your team is hybrid, get the remote team members into the office regularly.

Some ideas to consider

You may think this all sounds good, but how can I do this?

Implementing sound operations management practices in your team is a layered process. Start small. Get out a spreadsheet, list the core work activities, and then go from there. Depending on the level of leadership, many team leaders have a limited view of what their teams do on a day-to-day basis. In many of the overworked teams we deal with, there are significant opportunities to improve the productive output of the group. That is good news.

Think about your leadership role. Are you willing to look deeper and commit to becoming a Top Ten Percent Leader? Some leaders are content with the status quo, hovering above the train wrecks their team deals with while leaving them to figure out the messy details. If you’ve read this far, I doubt you’re one of those leaders.

Go for it! Your team will be revitalized. Everyone will be happier, and you’ll be recognized for your efforts.