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Awesome Efficiency: 5 Ways to Maximize Team Productivity

02/25/2015 01:52 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

2015-02-20-j0443464.jpgThe #BestAdvice I've ever received was from someone I've never met, and he had never met me: Peter Drucker. I read his work throughout my business undergrad and MBA programs, including my favorite quote: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." Or similarly, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things." Drucker and many others consider those two terms to be different. In general, they are defined as follows:

Effectiveness, or doing the right things, usually refers to successfully producing the expected or desired result; the degree to which objectives are achieved, problems solved, and profits realized. But anyone with the right training or a good manual can do the right things. So can a properly programmed robot. Alone, effectiveness isn't enough to distinguish a good executive.

Efficiency, or doing things right, is the accomplishment of a job with a minimum expenditure of time, effort, and cost; it's the shortest distance between a goal and a checkmark. Business "efficiency" is essentially minimizing the resources required to do something. Efficiency takes reality into account, but finds ways to bend reality to its will.

Today, after nearly 25 years speaking and writing on performance and productivity, I've come to believe in business, what we call efficiency must also include effectiveness. Efficiency without effectiveness can go devastatingly wrong. It doesn't matter how well your team climbs Mt. Everest if your intention was to climb the Matterhorn. Or if your mechanic changes the wrong tire on your car, it doesn't matter how efficiently he does the job; you still have a flat. What we really want, then, is effective efficiency.

As a leader, you aspire to maximize your personal and team performance, which requires effective efficiency in your organization. When effectiveness lacks efficiency, it's often unproductive. Good leaders, then, combine two capacities to maximize the productivity and profitability of their teams. Here are some examples of how this plays out:

1. Take advantage of technology. The technological leaps of the past century have made it easier and easier to complete more tasks in less time. So embrace and encourage new trends, devices, and software as they appear. Allow your workers to bring their own devices for business purposes. Why not use a productivity source you don't have to pay for? If they want the ability to check work email while on personal time, not only let them, but enable them.

2. Provide instant "anywhere" access to workplace information. Team members have the ability to work from practically anywhere with wifi, so allow this when practical. When a member of my office manager's family is ill, it's easy enough to allow her to work from home for the day, so she can still be somewhat productive. You should also buy into your employees' willingness to work from anywhere. With WiFi, Evernote, and all the snazzy apps we have access to now, workers can tap into work information no matter where they are: cubicle, hotel, conference, break room, or coffee shop. Give them a secure, reliable way to share ideas and communicate, allowing them more flexibility and change-responsiveness.

3. Measure everything. You can better influence when you can understand through data. Keep an eye on all the metrics that matter for your team, from hours worked and reports produced to productivity per hour. Use an accountability system, project management software, SharePoint, a common spreadsheet on Google Docs, Outlook Task Assignments, or a scoreboarding system that tracks important team metrics. You can use off-the-shelf technology, or have someone create a proprietary system.

4. Brainstorm regularly. Meet with your team periodically to exchange ideas on how best to achieve your strategic priorities and improve processes and procedures. Look for areas of overlap and eliminate redundancy. Constantly discuss what they're doing that doesn't provide value. Remove steps that no longer apply when a platform changes, and make sure each person documents everything, so a new person can step in quickly. Remove your thought-filters and allow your ideas to cross-fertilize to see what kinds of interesting hybrids result. Consider concepts from other fields and apply them to yours; remember, drive-thru banking inspired McDonald's to invent the drive-thru restaurant. What would you love to do if it were possible?

5. Set and track efficiency goals. Once you've pared your ideas down to size and set goals with your team, set specific schedules for achievement. As with any project, break those goals into manageable pieces, each with its own milestones and deadlines. Once you've achieved a goal, retune and set a new one.

These five pointers will provide a sufficient foundation for pursuing and supporting effective efficiency initiatives. Always remember: in business terms, efficiency is not just speediness. If it lacks effectiveness, it's useless, no matter how fast you can accomplish it.

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© 2015. Laura Stack, aka The Productivity Pro, helps leaders increase team and personal productivity. For over 20 years, her keynote speeches have helped Fortune 1000 clients improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Laura is the author six books, most recently Execution IS the Strategy.

*image provided by Microsoft Clip Art