The 5 productivity barriers

Work delays can always be attributed to one of five productivity barriers.

Read on to find out more about which of these barriers are killing your team's productivity, and how Easy 1-on-1s can help overcome this.

Barrier 1: No prioritisation

In a workplace where task prioritisation is absent, an abundance of work often overwhelms the team. Not all tasks carry equal value; some can wait, while others demand immediate attention. Especially crucial are tasks that serve as prerequisites for the progress of other team members. Without a clear hierarchy of priorities, bottlenecks emerge, hindering the whole team's progress.

The solution lies in establishing priorities for each team member. This enables coordination and management without the need for micro-management. This approach ensures timely task completion while allowing team members the flexibility to adjust their daily work. Consequently, team members can confidently and independently reshuffle their work plan when urgent work breaks in to their schedule, safe in the knowledge that as long as they maintain the hierarchy of priorities, then they are meeting their manager's expectations.

Easy 1-on-1s fixes this by:

  • Prompting team members to set an ordered list of priorities when preparing their 1-on-1 discussion notes
  • Having managers and team members agree any changes to this ordered list of priorities during the 1-on-1 discussion

Barrier 2: Wrong prioritisation

It is not enough to simply set any priorities. There needs to be some logic behind the prioritisation. To optimise business outcomes, work should be prioritised based on how it is expected to impact business performance metrics. Choosing the right metrics then becomes crucial, as they dictate the priorities, which in turn influence what work will be done.

Take, for example, a mechanic in a factory who evaluates their performance by the number of maintenance work orders completed weekly, believing more is better. While it seems productive, this approach leads to prioritising quick tasks, often neglecting longer but critical work orders essential for the factory's smooth operation.

The solution lies in aligning priorities with known challenges or areas of underperformance. If conveyor belt failures are known to hinder the factory's output, the mechanic should focus on reducing conveyor belt downtime, even if it means completing fewer work orders overall. This shift ensures that priorities are logically set, driving better business outcomes.

Easy 1-on-1s fixes this by:

  • Including a few agreed-upon performance metrics in the 1-on-1 discussion notes
  • Prompting users to set priorities in response to metrics expected to miss their targets
  • Prompting users to set additional priorities to address identified blockers, or known resource constraints. Where team members can't resolve these issues on their own, they are prompted to ask their manager for assistance

Barrier 3: Conflicting prioritisation

Occasionally team members will be pursuing conflicting priorities. This is a significant source of tension, stress, and animosity between colleagues. The resulting arguments and correspondence also drive unproductive work into the business.

Again, consider the example of the factory mechanic. They might have been tasked with maintaining all the conveyor belts as soon as possible. But the person in charge of production wants to keep the belts running nonstop, to meet the quarterly targets. They clash because they have different priorities.

Or perhaps the mechanic has found a premium lubricant that will address the root cause of the belt issues, but the procurement team block the purchase as they are prioritising reducing the cost of consumables.

These disagreements happen when everyone is focused on different things. It leads to conflicts and makes the team work against each other.

Easy 1-on-1s fixes this by:

  • Prompting team members to flag potential conflicts as soon as they are identified
  • Having managers reprioritise their team members work to resolve conflicting priorities and improve coordination of their teams
  • Where a manager doesn't have oversight over all of the conflicting priorities, the issue can be progressively escalated up through the organisation via the weekly 1-on-1 cycle, until reaching a senior manager with the remit to resolve the conflict

Barrier 4: No accountability

Agreeing clear, non-conflicting priorities and performance targets is essential, but it only results in rapid progress if team members take accountability for these results. In many businesses it is a real struggle to hold people to do what they say they will do.

Accountability is the bridge that links intentions and plans to tangible results. The personal commitment that your team members take to follow through on their commitments makes teams easier to manage, grows trust within the organisation, and sets the foundation for a culture of high performance.

Where people don't agree with or understand what they are being asked to do, it is impossible for them to take accountability. Furthermore even your most engaged team members need to understand that, at the end of the week, their work will undergo review. This reassures them that their efforts hold significance and aren't in vain.

Easy 1-on-1s fixes this by:

  • Letting team members create the first draft of their weekly plans, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability
  • Prompting users to break down priorities into smaller, more approchable tasks
  • Requiring that each task is assigned an expected completion date, and the person accountable for task completion
  • Reviewing the previous week's task list each week, automatically bringing incomplete tasks into the next week's work plan
  • Highlighting incomplete tasks and missed forecasts, ensuring they don't accidentally slip through unnoticed, and that an updated plan to address the shortcomings can be agreed for the coming week

Barrier 5: Poor specificity

Vague task descriptions often lead to varying interpretations. Consider the case of our factory mechanic, who may have been given the task to "Contact the forklift vendor and try to arrange a replacement forklift" by the end of the week.

The ambiguity arises: Is the task complete when a voicemail is left, an agreement with the vendor is established for a future delivery, or when the replacement forklift is in operation?

This lack of specificity becomes a recipe for disappointment. At week's end, the manager's expectation of a new forklift in service may clash with the mechanic's belief that they upheld their commitment by merely initiating contact with the vendor. Such miscommunications stemming from vague instructions are widespread and trigger frustration and unnecessary delays.

Easy 1-on-1s fixes this by:

  • Guiding users to avoid the use of vague verbs in their priorities and tasks
  • Providing additional tips on best-practice for writing precise and unambiguous tasks
  • Requiring tasks to be accompanied by the name of the specific person accountable, and the expected completion date

Note: What about lack of investment, training, and resources?

This is often the first productivity barrier that comes to mind.

It's true, you can always do more, if more money was made available.

However, you may be surprised just how much you can get done with your existing resources, once you overcome the five productivity barriers described above.