Is it starting to feel a little chaotic? Here’s the solution.
Leaders are Re-thinking Executive Productivity. What About You?
Is it starting to feel a little chaotic? Here’s the solution.
Leaders are Re-thinking Executive Productivity. What About You?
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How to make Ways of Working Actionable & Real?

Ways of Working (WOW) is a catchy buzzword, but hardly a clear agenda for action.  If WOW is going to deliver on the CEO's agenda of productivity, focus and efficiency, Ways of Working must be made practical, actionable and real. That requires shifting the focus to ‘the Way We Work' (as a team).

Interesting, but vague

Issues such as hybrid working, ‘quiet quitting’ and the ‘future of work’ make for interesting reading. But what do these topics really mean for leaders and leader teams?

For example, what do leaders mean when they say that they want their people to work in ways that are more productive, agile or innovative? What exactly is it that people need to do differently?

Disconnected from Reality

There is often a disconnect between ‘ways of working' as a management aspiration or ideal and the daily practicalities of working within an organization, unit or team.
Telling people that they need to be more productive, engaged or innovative falls far short of a clear set of instructions.  Moreover, when it comes from people who are far removed from the practical realities of doing the work, it can sound facile perhaps even annoying. For example:

  • ‘Leaders say that they want greater speed and agility, yet we still have all this bureaucracy to deal with!'
  • ‘On the one hand, there are calls for greater speed and agility and on the other you cannot leave anybody out of the loop – too many people that need to be involved in even the most basic decisions.'
  • ‘The CEO is always saying that more innovation is required, yet the hoops that you need to go through to get a project or initiative off the ground kill off so many good ideas.'

Getting more specific

It is not until leaders and their teams can get specific about ways of working that change can happen or benefits can be realized.

A key step in making ways of working practical, actionable and real is to get specific. Rather than focusing on ‘ways of working' at a high level, zoom-in. Turn your attention to ‘the way we work' – that is to your own unit, project or team and the opportunities and challenges it faces at this time.

The Way We Work (together)

Great teams don't just plan and review their work or the results of their work, but also the process by which their work gets done. They plan, review and optimize ‘the way we work‘ using a framework checklist called the 7Rs.

Here is the 7Rs checklist: Have we got all the Right People in the Right Roles, doing the Right Work and working together in the Right Way, with the Right Resources and the Right Rewards to achieve the Right Results.

The objective of this mantra-like checklist is to ensure front-of-mind awareness of the ‘way we work' together. For example:

  • You may find yourself planning a project and thinking ‘who are the right people and what are the right roles, what is the right work and, most important of all, what is the right result’.
  • Alternatively, you may be sitting in a meeting or workshop thinking ‘are all the right people here, have we the right roles, what is the right work and what is the right result'.

We talk of the 7Rs as being the equivalent of a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ – a versatile and easy to use tool that can be applied in any work situation.

The 7Rs framework has a number of levels to it – you can drill down beneath any of the ‘rights’ to reveal a deeper analysis and a set of tools. For example, you can explore Right Roles or Rights Resources in more detail, getting specific tools to assess and optimize any of the 7Rs.

We Work Vs Me Work

The focus is on the way we work, rather than the way ‘you' or ‘I' work. It is not about the way ‘they' work either. There are several reasons why this is significant:

  • If one person makes a change but the rest of the team or the organization stays the same, the impact will be small, even insignificant.
  • It is about what a team can control and by in large they have control over how they work together on a practical level. They may have little control over what happens outside their team.
  • Planning or optimizing individual work is not enough because so much of our work is now being done in teams. For example, many leaders: 
    • Are spending up to 70% of their time on internal collaboration
    • Get less than an hour of uninterrupted time in the day.
  • We are social creatures, the people we work with have an inordinate influence over us. Moreover, our interactions with our colleagues are a key dimension of our lives.

Compound Benefits

‘Right People in the Right Roles, etc.' may sound very absolutist, idealistic too. As a result, you might be thinking ‘right people, well, we have the people we are given!' or ‘right resources – we have the resources we have been given'. However, the goal is to optimize rather than to perfect. It is about making the best of what you have got. Besides, what is right in one situation, may not be right in the next.

The goal is to realize marginal gains, e.g., 2%, 3% or 5%. Those are modest & achievable goals. But the benefits accrue day after day, month after month, so there is a significant compounding effect.

Importantly, the goal is not just a better business, but also a better life! Those who are actually doing the work should be the primary beneficiaries. The benefits for those doing the work include enabling people to get on top of and stay on top of a growing workload and also to tackle some of the source of frustration in their work, such as:

  • Too many interruptions
  • Long CC lists and too many ineffective meetings
  • Not enough time for focus work or time to think
  • Too much time being spent on lower value/non value tasks, while priorities suffer
  • Not enough time to do focused work or to think
  • Blurring lines between work and home, etc.

Empowering people to optimize their work boosts energy & engagement, providing people with a greater sense of control.

The fact that there are opportunities to optimize ways of working does not reflect poorly on a team.  Indeed, the opposite is true. Being open and curious about ‘the way we work together' is the hallmark of a great team. Some call this the practice of team reflectivity – where the team regularly reflects on how it is working together1.

There will always be opportunities to optimize and refine ‘the way we work together', regardless of how great a team is or how great its people are. That is almost a natural law. This effect is well documented and well researched2. It has a technical name – process losses, or what we call performance losses and potential gains3.

Ask your team: How can we optimize the Way We Work for:
1. YOUR benefit
2. The TEAM's benefit

The job of optimizing ‘the way we work’ is never really finished. An iterative approach is key. The way we work in quarter 4 as we deliver the last phase of a critical project or initiative may be different from the normal approach.

Originally published Oct 28th 2022.

SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients:

  1. See for example Michael A. West, ‘Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research', Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. []
  2. See for example: David A. Nadler, Marc C. Gerstein & Robert B. Shaw, ‘Organizational Architecture: Designs for Changing Organizations', Jossey-Bass; 1 edition, 11 Mar. 2008. []
  3. The concept of Performance Losses and Gains is explored in ‘Pitstop to Perform’, Ray Collis & John O Gorman, ASG Group Press, 2017. []

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