5 hidden inefficiencies on your team

When managers think about productivity killers on their team, they often think about things like people spending time on Facebook or not working at peak capacity. But there are some hidden inefficiencies that don’t often get the same attention, but which can have a much great impact.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about five hidden inefficiencies on teams. You can read it here.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Meg Murry*

    In addition to too many meetings – meetings that don’t start (or end) on time. My pet peeve at my new job is that pretty much all meetings start at least 10 minutes late while we wait for everyone to remember they had a meeting, wander to said meeting, and for at least one person to have forgotten and has to ‘wrap something up real quick’ while we all sit and wait. Not a fan.

    1. Afiendishthingy*

      Yes- and for me that person is usually the Director of Teapots. Last week we sat for 15 minutes after the stated start time before I knocked on his office door to see if he was ready – “Oh is that TODAY?” Also last week he was 20 minutes late to a meeting with a client who was already upset with us. Grrrr

      1. Stephen King's Constant Reader*

        I feel your pain! My boss is perpetually late and forgetful.

  2. Dr. Doll*

    Oh God…. process IS INDEED an end in itself at a state institution. Just ask the faculty who have not gotten travel reimbursements for months on end because they didn’t have a boarding pass, a “stay” receipt instead of a hotels.com receipt, or paid with something more than $25 with a credit card and the receipt didn’t say xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-9378.

    1. Artemesia*

      LOL I once had to wait extra long for reimbursement because the lunch I had at McDonalds was not detailed enough to demonstrate that no alcohol had been purchased on the 7.50$ lunch involved. Might have even been less than that. Every dinner bill has to be itemized.

      And then we were only allowed $25 for dinner but no receipt was required. But someone got the idea that we were all eating $5 meals in New Orleans or New York and pocketing the ‘extra’ and so they started requiring receipts. Of course the receipts were for $65 and up meals in places like New Orleans so even though only $25 was being claimed we got them sent back because we were spending too much on dinner. It took awhile to make clear that it was none of their damn business how much we spent, only how much they paid.

      And the boarding pass requirement? Like someone went to a conference 1000 miles away and you can’t just accept that with a bill for airfare that probably a flight was taken? Since southwest confiscates the boarding pass when you board this was always a hassle.

    2. Kelly*

      The processes at state institutions, especially those that have vestiges of union rules but have been deunionized, are a pain in the butt. My employer is in the process of switching to a new HR system that should eliminate the old union policies, including how positions are posted and internal vs. external hires. I’m relatively new to the environment and have found that you are not rewarded for taking any initiative that’s not in your job description. One coworker has an adjusted schedule that’s affecting how timely certain parts of his job get done. I tried to help him out but the boss found out and doesn’t seem to care. All she cares about is that we stick to our job descriptions, in spite of his inability to get core parts of job done in a timely manner. Meanwhile, she doesn’t seem to care that he has chronic tardiness and sticks me with the part of his job he doesn’t want to do – sitting at the desk. She doesn’t care that there are weeks that I spend over half my time at the desk when in my job description, it’s supposed to be less than 10 hours per week.

      She also hits the perfectionism note. To her, not having a pile of books that you are in the process of working with arranged neatly is more serious than chronically being late.

      1. LJL*

        My favorite was when my reimbursement got delayed because I stayed with my parents, so I didn’t have a hotel receipt. Note that I was not asking for hotel reimbursement,only food and travel. I was perplexed at how I could produce a receipt for lodging in a place that was a) not a business and b) didn’t charge me anything.

  3. Stephen King's Constant Reader*

    Decision paralysis runs rampant in my office. At this moment we have about five separate projects done, but my boss has not given the OK yet. Frustrating as hell!

    1. Artemesia*

      My daughter turned her office around on a dime when she became a manager by the simple talent of making a decision and getting on with it. So many times just doing something sensible has so much better an outcome than dithering for two weeks even when it isn’t the optimal decision.

      1. Stephen King's Constant Reader*

        Ugh, this is what I’m hoping will happen, actually. My boss is on leave so my colleague is effectively in charge. I think that if we can push these projects ahead in the meantime, my boss’s boss will see what can actually be done and hopefully realize that my boss is full of shitake mushrooms.

  4. Stranger than fiction*

    Alison, I’d add #6: Over-communication (similar to the other new posting today about reply all). At my work this is a huge annoyance. It’s not uncommon for people to send you an email and then a chat that they sent an email followed by a call asking if you got the email and/or chat. I’m dead serious. And I’m sure lots of other companies also could use a brush up on this subject. Then again communication issues could be its own article.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Right. And when I don’t reply I have to hear about it from eight managers.

  5. stephanie*

    What’s a good way to reduce the number of meetings? Ours generally start on time, but there are soooo many. Most are productive, but my days are almost back-to-back meetings. I usually have 1 day/week (plus after hours) to do my real work.

    Any good methods / tips to reduce meetings?

    1. Jennifer*

      Speaking as a non-manager: how many of those do you actually need?

      Meeting purposes boil down to:
      * Announcements
      * Demonstrations of computer products
      * Things that actually need to be discussed live and hashed out in person or else they never will be decided.

      If you’re actually doing one of those things, you can keep the meeting.

      Other things that happen during meetings that you probably don’t always need to have meetings for:
      * “What’s everybody doing this week? Updates!”
      * Random presentations from other offices that have little or nothing to do with your job
      * Check-in meetings on a weekly/monthly basis to make sure that everyone is fine and can vent their concerns to the group. Open forum, let’s chat, let’s discuss rumors, blah blah chattypants.

      If it were up to me, I would ban the regularly scheduled meetings because if there is going to be a meeting every week (or even every month at times), they seem to become more pointless and devolve into chattypants. Almost every regular meeting of mine is pointless for that reason. Except one group where the leader keeps it down to 15 minutes max and cancels them half the time because there’s nothing to talk about. We love that committee.

      If it’s that important, you can schedule it when you need to. But regular meetings? Toss ’em.

      1. stephanie*

        That’s interesting. We’ve tried email updates, but either 1) people don’t send them or 2) people don’t read them and end up duplicating work. Has your company successfully used email for updates?

        1. Jennifer*

          Um, maybe your updates are different from ours. In our office, a certain manager demands that we update each other on our activities every week, especially the ones that don’t relate to anyone else or overlap. So it boils down to “Well, we’re still working on XYZ, the applications are coming through” for everyone, every time. They’re really pointless. It’s not like actual news/announcements, it’s chatfilter and really, nothing anyone else needed to know that was crucial to the performance of their own jobs. It kills time.

          As for e-mail updates, everyone’s supposed to read them. Seems to happen.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Exactly, and announcements can go out over email anyway. Unless they are huge, like “Hey someone’s buying us out,” email should cover it.

      3. MR*

        Announcements belong on the bulletin board in the break room.

        Demonstrations should be held in the conference room on Tuesdays at 2 p.m…with the announcement for them being posted on the bulletin board in the break room.

        Things that need to be discussed and hashed out in person should already have the final few solutions ready to go before they get hashed out and discussed in person.

        1. Jennifer*

          Hah. No, they like to announce big shit in person here. Ditto demos, because “everyone has to answer questions about this over the phone.”

    2. College Career Counselor*

      Tips for reducing meetings/meeting times:

      1) Remove the chairs from the meeting room. (I’m serious-if you’re standing for over 15 minutes, you’re going to get antsy to be done.)
      2) Have an agenda and a strict time frame for the meeting (this may only work if you’re the one calling the meeting–“we have 30 minutes and we need to cover XYZ information, so everything gets 8 minutes”)
      3) appoint a time-keeper
      4) look at the participants in your meetings–is it largely the same cast of characters? Can you condense or combine meetings and free up some time?

  6. qtipqueen*

    Processes – yes. At my work, if anything gets messed up in the slightest, it couldn’t possibly be because something gets messed up, or because humans work here, it is because the PROCESS IS WRONG! So much time is wasted trying to figure out how, if the precious process is followed, a mistake could have happened. Every. Stinking. Time.


  7. Tinker*

    Oh lordy. Decision paralysis and perfectionism, on an individual level, absolutely kill me — and often enough are the root cause of more traditional sorts of productivity sins such as, uh, somehow ending up spending the afternoon researching sleeping bags because THAT decision isn’t nearly as fraught.

    1. Alternative*

      I was just looking at sleeping bags yesterday – it is a hard decision to make! There are so many options and features and price points… REI had some great deals this weekend, but I just couldn’t decide.

      1. Tinker*

        Haha, it was actually the REI sale that prompted the sleeping bag question in the first place. I’ve got a convertible blanket thing from Hill People Gear that’s a lightweight sleeping bag / overbag, and it struck me that if I acquired the right sleeping bag to pair with it I’d theoretically have a really useful system and there’s this deal on aaaaaaand… a lot of time disappeared down the rabbit hole of studying temperature records vs. EN rating and the meaning of same…

  8. Alternative*

    I’ll add one: not keeping the proper people in the loop on things, so they waste lots of time trying to figure out and/or resolve something, only to find out later that there is already a solution, or they have decided to go in a completely different direction, and all that work was for nothing.

  9. Sharon*

    I have another one not mentioned: when the company invests in collaboration tools but then doesn’t bother to train people in it’s use or enforce it’s use. The end result is that project documents are scattered all over kingdom come and nobody knows where to find things they need, so they waste time waiting to find someone to ask. I worked for one company that invested in both SharePoint and Confluence. People had project materials in both and also on a shared network drive. It was insane.

    It drives me crazy how many people are so resistant to using collaboration tools, so you have to chase them down and ask for copies of documents.

    1. MR*

      The only winners when it comes to collaboration tools are the companies that invent them and then cash the checks that companies send them for their use.

      Do most people use them? Eh, maybe, but probably not as well as they are supposed to be or utilize them to their maximum efficiency.

      Since people are creatures of habit, unless there is something that makes people come out and change their habits, collaboration tools aren’t going to produce the results that they promise.

    2. nerfmobile*

      Oh do not get me started on that one! We have SharePoint and Confluence/Jira and another internal one plus random others. And then my product team just made a huge switch from Jira plus yet another older system to a new one from Microsoft, and then last month we learned of a top-down directive that all product teams have to be on Jira. (But SharePoint and the main internal tool remain….). Gak. I ignore them all unless I have to.

      1. Windchime*

        We have Sharepoint, and the only people who seem to love it are the Sharepoint administrators. Documents are scattered all over the place and the directory structures never make any sense. So if you want to find a document, you still have to search several sites for it (because why would we put all the Sharepoint in one site?).

        It’s maddening.

        1. A Definite Beta Guy*

          We (apparently) have SharePoint, we have been told by way higher-ups to use SharePoint, we had a half hour training session on the proper naming conventions for SharePoint, and none of us even know how to open SharePoint on our computers. Training FTW!

  10. Anon in AZ*

    I’m surprised no one mentioned perfectionism yet. In on particular niche of my workplace, folks are afraid to “be seen in their underwear” so to speak – even if it is work that will never be seen outside the team, work must be crisp and clean in case outsiders might see it. Its so formal that it stifles the exchange of ideas and it takes too much time to make that first draft look like a final draft.

  11. Cajun2core*

    One I will add is using too much paper. While our time-system allows us to request time-off electronically, my boss still requires me to fill out a paper form. In addition, our financial forms all have to be on paper. If we have to do a journal entry, reimbursement request, and similar items are all done on paper. Seriously, we have to fill out a form (Word or Excel form), print it out, have 2 or three people sign it, forward it to another department, who then keys it into the main computer system.

  12. Cajun2core*

    Another thing is not using the advanced features of tools such as Excel. Seriously, have seen people key data over and over instead of using such things as VLOOKUP or Importing/exporting data to/from other software and Excel.

  13. Windchime*

    #3 is a pet peeve for me (focusing on processes instead of results). We have one person on a team of 10 who refuses to do things the way we have all agreed. These are simple things, like “put comments in when you check in code, and associate it with a work item”, or , “Make sure all your changes go through QA.” He refuses; we’re not sure if he doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.

    So now we have put a bunch of strict processes in place that are unwieldy and inconvenient in order to try to keep this guy on track. It’s annoying to the rest of us — nobody wants to do this! — and guess what; the problem guy doesn’t do the processes either.

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