6 Creative Team Management Tactics for Building Productive Teams

There are few things as satisfying as successfully directing a group of people toward a common goal. Great team managers are able to engage their employees, allowing them to excel at their jobs---just ask entrepreneur Scott Case, who's written about the 11 most important behaviors of effective leaders.

Conversely, there are few things as disappointing as failing to achieve these goals. Trying to "herd cats," as managers like to call it when team members aren't on the same page, is an exercise in frustration.

Your team management tactics can have a major impact on how your employees perform. According to Gallup, managers are responsible for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. If the traditional slate of team management advice isn't working for you, it might be time to try some strategies that are a little more out of the box.

In this article, we'll highlight tried-and-true actionable advice that you can use to make your team more cohesive and productive.

1. Prioritize total transparency

Transparency is often touted as a benefit when managing teams. But what happens when that ideal is taken to the extreme? The social media management startup Buffer has experimented with "radical transparency," with largely positive results.

Revenue figures, diversity statistics, salary numbers, and more are all visible to the public via Buffer's transparency dashboard. Employees can even view nearly every email sent between team members, helping to improve trust and clarity.

According to Buffer CEO and co-founder Joel Gascoigne: "This might sound a little crazy, and probably certainly seems totally overwhelming. But that's the price we've decided it's worth to have complete transparency. Nothing is more important to us."

2. Bring back the coffee break

Employees used to spend each break gathering around the coffee machine or the water cooler. These momentary pauses aren't just an excuse for procrastination; they're also an important channel for exchanging ideas and goings-on within the company.

Upside's Vice President of Data Science Chris Poirier has written about the need for this kind of outlet in a recent blog post. Every morning, he and his team members (along with a beverage of their choice) take the time to discuss one or more big topics for the day.

In Chris' own words: "These coffee breaks have not only boosted our productivity; they've been a great forum for communication of both context and priority at the team and company level." To learn more about how these breaks have helped us increase efficiency and strengthen team relationships, check out the full article "Bring Back the Coffee Break!" on our Upside Team Blog.

3. Write down goals with progress tracking software

With the advent of social media, diary writing has become a lost art. Being able to neatly sum up your trials and accomplishments each day is both cathartic and informative for other people who read your words.

That's why simple yet effective progress tracking software like IDoneThis has been so popular as of late. Each day, users take a moment to check in and write down what they've accomplished. You can view the reports of others in your team or organization, and view progress reports for how a project is advancing over time.

By enshrining your daily achievements and posting them for all to see, software like IDoneThis helps improve productivity and accountability---not to mention saving countless hours in status meetings.

4. Empower team members to work autonomously

While still not the norm for many industries and roles, working from home is on the rise as both employers and employees realize the many benefits. Some companies have taken this a step further, allowing workers to set their own schedule (excepting mandatory events such as team meetings).

Improved employee retention, fewer sick days, less stress, and lower costs are just a few of the advantages of working from home. According to a two-year study by Stanford University, telecommuting employees achieve a weekly productivity boost of nearly a full day's worth of work over their fellow team members in the office.

Mohammed Chahdi, director of global human resources at Dell, says that "work is what you do and not a place you go... Our value proposition is clear and simple: To enable our team members to do their best work regardless of where and when."

94 percent of Dell team members believe that flexible work arrangements benefit the company's performance---not a surprising conclusion when Dell's remote customer service workers earn 20 percent higher customer satisfaction scores.

5. Limit cognitive loads

It's a well-known fact that the human brain can only process so much information at once. For example, Dunbar's number is an estimate for an upper limit on the number of meaningful social connections that can be maintained with other people at the same time---roughly 150. Similarly, many business leaders have argued that being too busy has rapidly diminishing returns, and can even be counterproductive.

As the creator of task management software Trello and co-founder of programming Q&A website Stack Overflow, Joel Spolsky knows more about productivity best practices than nearly anyone. While running the software company Fog Creek Software (now rebranded as Glitch), Spolsky came up with a limit for employees' workloads that he called the "rule of five".

Spolsky's rule limits each employee to two things that are currently being worked on; two things to work on in the future; and one thing that explicitly isn't being worked on (whether due to impossibility or lack of time).

While the optimal number of tasks may vary according to your preferences, putting firm limits on employees' current and future responsibilities improves their clarity, focus, and productivity.

6. Reorganize the workplace

Sometimes all you need to shake things up and boost productivity is a workplace reshuffling, whether that means pushing the desks around or changing up the organization's hierarchy.

Management practices such as Holacracy encourages organizations to adopt a flatter, more decentralized structure. The online shoe retailer Zappos, for one, has been vocal about its use of Holacracy on its website.

Zappos lead designer John Bunch says: "Ideas that get off the ground that probably wouldn't have happened if not for Holacracy. In this new environment, your job doesn't have to be contained to a specific team... you can move across these different circles which enables people to offer ideas that can benefit the whole company."

Thinking about a more physical reorganization? Just keep in mind that the results are in and they don't look good for open offices in terms of productivity. One study found that open plan offices reduce face-to-face interactions by 73 percent; disruptions and aggravations are also a common complaint.

The Bottom Line

The above six innovative tactics for team management are just a few possibilities to help make your teams more productive, effective, and engaged. 

Do you have some ideas or experiences of your own that have helped you build more productive teams? We'd love to hear the lessons you've learned in the comments below.