Building productivity in organisations

Most articles written on productivity tend to focus on personal productivity. Emphasis is often laid on the use of to-do lists, Eisenhower matrix and deep work to manage tasks, focus and attention respectively. These are the starting points for productivity. If you can’t master them, you won’t go far. A limitation of this approach to productivity is it focuses so much on the person and leaves out the larger environment. Unless you work as a one-man freelancer, very few people have the luxury to set their own schedules as they wish. You may have written your to-do list the night before and blocked out time to work on an important task this morning. However, if the Head of your Department drops by and assigns you a task, that task automatically jumps to the top of your priority matrix.

Boss using a
I need this today

Productivity is therefore, best thought of as an organisational wide problem. No matter how productive you are as a person, your productivity can’t grow beyond the systems set up by your organisation or team. It can be hard to find a place to focus at work, if your work environment is perpetually noisy. Wearing noise-cancelling headphones can only take you so far if everyone in your team is used to shouting. Similarly, blocking out time for deep work is pointless if your teammates and boss do not support the practice. It can also be impossible to get tasks done if you don’t have the information you need and have to keep asking for it from someone up the ladder.

I’m sure you can think of similar problems you may have encountered at work when you tried to implement productivity solutions on your own. For the best results, teams have to come together to set up supportive systems. Most work management software allows members to mark themselves as either unavailable or busy. This could be used as an indicator for when someone will be focusing on deep work and will not welcome interruptions. If possible, organisations should designate special rooms or areas as quiet zones so those who wish to work without background noise can do so.

Office desk
Clean and quiet

A major killer of productivity in projects is having to request for information all the time because there is no central database. Having an online repository of documents and spreadsheets that every project team member can access will save you time and drastically cut down on emails. Need the latest sales figures for the month, a simple Google Sheet will save you having to ask the sales team. You can just look them up yourself.

Finally, bosses can go a long way towards improving productivity by empowering subordinates with the authority to fulfil their responsibilities. If you assign a subordinate a task that’s above their authority level, they will have to keep coming back to you to seek approval for every step. This translates into wasted time for you and them.

Organisations are complex systems. However, even those systems can become productive if productivity is treated rightfully as an organisation-wide problem instead of something for individuals to work on.

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