THE BLOG

Five Ways to Make Your Team More Productive

06/01/2011 04:53 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015

You know the saying: If you want to get something done, ask a busy person. That applies -- and then some -- to Eric Schadt, an innovative scientist recently hailed by Esquire as "the biggest thinker in biology," and who gained international fame for his work last fall in rapidly sequencing the cholera strain ravaging Haiti (he moved so fast, a mere four weeks after he received the sample, the New England Journal of Medicine published his results).

And that's not the only productivity feat for Schadt (whom I came to know because he's related to my girlfriend). Last year alone, Schadt published 35 peer-reviewed scientific papers; he gives at least 40 speeches per year and is invited to present at hundreds more. So how does he do it? Here are Schadt's five leadership and productivity tips.

1. Delegate relentlessly. There's simply no way for one human being to devise, conduct and write up 35 simultaneous research projects. To maintain his output, Schadt relies on a talented team of scientists with whom he collaborates. His mantra? If someone else can do it, and he trusts them -- delegate.

2. Be willing to place your bets. There are no guarantees in science. You could spend months on an experiment, only to see it fail. But you can't choose your projects -- or your hypotheses -- timidly. Be a bold thinker, place your bets and be willing to change your mind if they don't pan out.

3. Build a team of team players. Just like in basketball, a team of scientists doesn't get very far if there are prima donnas hogging the spotlight. During the hiring process and when checking references, work hard to ensure you're tapping people who believe in advancing the mission, not just their own careers.

4. Help your team advance. This is the counterpoint to #3 -- you'll never be able to retain even the most altruistic types if they don't believe their career is moving forward. Look out for your best staffers and reward them with opportunities to publish, speak and grow their visibility and professional profile.

5. Sell the vision. Says Schadt, "Never tell someone to do something until you explain why it matters." It's easy to sell staffers on the value of eradicating disease and improving human health, of course, but it also applies to any business. Providing context ensures everyone feels like part of the team and understands that even unpleasant tasks advance the mission -- whether it's interns making photocopies (so journalists can have the press kits they need to write about the company's new breakthrough) or frontline staff handling customer complaints (because solving a problem early could mean turning a loud adversary into a dedicated fan).

What are your secrets for cultivating and leading a productive team?

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.