Do you know what your team is doing?

Perhaps one of the most important things for a manager – especially at a startup, where resources are tight and time is unforgiving – is to keep close tabs on what everyone on the team is working on. Are these mission-critical activities? Are they setting the groundwork for a longer-term initiative? Most importantly – is it time well-spent? Short of constantly running around and asking your team “what are you doing?” there are a few unobtrusive ways for team leaders to ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Visible signs. I generally think the best solutions are the simplest – so for me, having a whiteboard list with each person’s name and their major tasks for deliverables is the most clear. I know of another startup that uses a “post-it” method – every task is a post-it and it stays up there under a person’s name until it is complete, when it is triumphantly garbaged. In our digital world, having a simple wall to look at, where everyone sees the same thing at the same time, can often be the best form of transparency.

Stand-up meetings. Whether daily or weekly, having stand-up meetings ensures that everyone on the team has a clear idea of what they need to tackle. The point of these being “stand-up” is that they are brief – if the conversation veers too much toward detail or problem solving, the manager should table that for a later discussion. If someone’s list of open items is too long, we can use the stand-up to load balance (reallocate some of the work to someone else), and/or prioritize (i.e. if we can only do three things this week, what are the most important? Or, how do we define success this week?).

Online productivity tools. Everyone has their favorites… from Flow to Trello to BaseCamp and more, it has never been easier to manage task lists online. In one of my past roles, my CEO used Flow religiously and disseminated that into our culture; it was both his way of assigning tasks but also to review what else was on each person’s plate. However it is important to make sure that these tools are saving, and not adding, time – so avoid duplicative lists / activities.

Weekly summary emails. Summarizing the top five highlights of the past week, KPIs, and flagging any issues / questions for management is another low-tech but effective tool, especially when working with team members in other offices. The goal is to ensure everyone is aligned on what the team is working on, provide a risk-free forum to ask for help or call out bottlenecks, and over time it is a useful way to codify accomplishments or team activities.

Most important is not to force any or all systems onto your team, but rather to see what is most conducive to your culture and processes.

─ January 26, 2015