Q: We never seem to have time to get any new projects done that we have talked about over and over again. My team’s excuse is that they are always troubleshooting issues that come up with clients or other employees and just haven’t been able to get to the projects. How do I help overcome this excuse without completely alienating my team?
On the surface it may seem like they are making excuses to avoid tackling projects but more likely there are a few roadblocks in the way that need to be addressed. It is important to dig for root causes by bringing your team members into the discussion.
As my role became more complex at my former bank and I began managing the operations team in addition to the accounting team, I began to lose track of which team member was responsible for certain tasks and I didn’t do a great job of thoroughly delegating tasks that I needed to get off my plate in order to focus on my high-payoff activities. In order to gain clarity on each person’s responsibilities and assist them in gaining clarity on my responsibilities, I turned to responsibility charting. Responsibility charting is a tried and true method to assist team members in understanding the role they play at the organization while dispelling false assumptions about a role based on title alone. Leading indicators that responsibility charting may be beneficial is when team members voice confusion over who is responsible for a given task, disproportionate workloads and a reactive work environment.
In my example, each accounting team member (including myself) listed our tasks and responsibilities, along with who had to provide approval. We also identified the people who cross trained to step in during illness or vacations. Once we completed these charts, we discovered room for improvement in balancing work loads amongst the team members, areas where cross training was needed and a few items that were missing.
This exercise prompted a larger discussion of why we were performing some of the tasks and how to build efficiencies to eliminate redundancy. It took time and effort but the process allowed the department to clarify roles and responsibilities and ensure everyone understood each other’s work load. It had the additional benefit of reducing the amount of firefighting each person performed daily. Once this was accomplished we had time to address the inefficiencies we had identified and build back into each day time for project work.
If you feel like you have a deep understanding of what each of your team members is responsible for but aren’t exactly sure how they spend their time each day, you can ask your reports to complete a time study for one week. This includes how much time is spent on email, on the phone, and in meetings. The time study may uncover that your team members spend much of their day on the phone answering questions for the frontline team or they are being invited to meetings and do not understand their purpose.
Once the root causes have been properly identified, each can be prioritized and addressed. For example, the frontline staff may be calling to ask questions because they do not have their own written resources or procedures to refer to when questions arise. This is a great opportunity to work with the frontline team and assist them in creating or updating written procedures, which will lead to a reduction in the troubleshooting demands on your team which ultimately allows them more time to prioritize project work. I love a happy ending!
Christy Baker focuses on operational and organizational strategies for community banks, including project management, through Christy Baker Consulting. She is former chief operations officer for an Iowa-based community banking group. If you have a management question you’d like Baker to address, contact her at [email protected].