Use a Task Map to Improve Your Team’s Performance
March 4, 2014 Editor 0
If you’ve noticed your team is functioning unevenly and its esprit de corps isn’t what you’d hoped, it’s time for you to ask yourself whether your people are deployed optimally.
Employees’ skills and interests can evolve over time, as can the goals of your group, so misalignment can happen without your noticing it. That person who was hired to do analysis but has blossomed into a first-rate motivator and loves working with groups: Is he still stuck in front of a computer doing analysis? Is the employee who was recruited as a trainer feeling frustrated because she has no opportunity to take advantage of her extraordinary talent for writing?
I’ve found that there’s a powerful way to answer questions like these: Create a task map.
A task map is a visual tool that allows you to see where skills are lacking or duplicated on a team. It can help you assign tasks that will take advantage of each person’s abilities and interests. I’ve seen task maps lead to a boost in productivity and employee satisfaction through what seemed like minor shifts in responsibilities. I’ve also seen them lead to major transformations after leaders discovered they didn’t have the right people for the work at hand.
Helen, the head of Human Resources for an organization with more than 20,000 employees, realized that members of her leadership team had been performing inconsistently: They excelled in some aspects of their jobs while coming up short in others. Customer complaints were on the rise, and she noticed collaboration fading and competition mounting.
The first thing she did was assess leadership team members’ skills by looking at their past accomplishments and the results of 360-degree assessments. Next, she listed their primary, secondary, and tertiary abilities on a whiteboard. This allowed her to see redundancies and gaps that had arisen over time. For example, four directors were strong in analysis but only one had well-developed project-management skills. And although the group was responsible for educating thousands of employees each year, there were only two people with a talent for training and teaching.
Helen then created a list of the HR department’s divisions and the tasks required for each one. She began drawing color-coded lines from team members’ talents to the tasks for which those talents were suited. The result looked like a jumble of Pick-Up Sticks—it got so messy she didn’t even complete the exercise.
She saw immediately that some directors’ skills were not well aligned with their current responsibilities. For example, Alex and Chris were better suited to each others’ positions. While both had experience as human resources generalists, Alex’s primary talents for writing and attention to detail were ideally suited for Chris’s work managing benefits and evaluating pay practices. Chris, meanwhile, was the only director with strong motivation skills and a customer-service orientation.
The need for a shift in responsibilities couldn’t have been more obvious. The extroverted Chris readily agreed to switch positions with Alex, because managing people played to his strengths and he found it much more enjoyable than managing contracts. Dealing with employees and clients had been draining for Alex, who found real satisfaction in performing detailed analyses and administering contracts.
The task map, even in its incomplete form, also revealed other imbalances that were not so readily solved, so Helen convened her team for a daylong meeting to redistribute the workload. Rather than make changes unilaterally, she gave everyone a say—a smart move, because the discussion led to a better all-around understanding of people’s skills and interests and engendered loyalty and goodwill.
The meeting led to a number of changes. For example, the team realized that HR’s increasing workload required the creation of two positions to handle logistics and program management. These new people would, in turn, free the directors to make better use of their own expertise.
After that pivotal session, Helen provided tools and training so that team members could succeed in their roles. The leadership team continued to meet regularly to make sure all members had ample opportunities to use their talents fully and to take on projects they enjoyed. (They also rotated responsibility for finding a fun activity for these quarterly sessions—their last meeting ended with a pool tournament.)
I checked in with Helen a year later. She reported improved performance and increased job satisfaction on the part of most of her directors. One person had left, which gave her an opportunity to fill a customer-service skills gap that had been identified in the initial task-mapping exercise. She created a second task map to visualize the changes. Not only had Helen better deployed her staff, the group had identified synergies across divisions and created opportunities for collaboration among directors. Afterward, several department heads, her key customers, told her they had noticed an improvement in the level of service her team provided.
Helen’s critical move in all this was focusing on deployment. She saw the daily harm that comes from allowing people’s abilities and responsibilities to become misaligned. She realized that people are happier and more productive if they have regular opportunities to use their skills and pursue their interests.
You may be surprised at the productivity and morale boost you can get from giving people some control over their work lives. Ensuring good alignment of skills and tasks creates an environment that encourages passion, productivity, and enjoyment, leading to sustained high performance and reduced turnover.
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