Improving Productivity in Teams Through Self Improvement Programs

Self-improvement is that tiny little push that every human being needs from time to time to gear up for the rigours of the corporate world. Self-improvement helps individuals expand their horizons and make better use of their own intrinsic capabilities. It helps individuals find better ways to perform their role within a team, thereby improving efficiency and productivity of the team as a whole. Let’s first look at what we mean by efficiency and productivity. This will show us why a team needs self-improvement in the first place:

Efficiency. Efficiency implies competence for a particular task. It is the ability to make the best use of resources, working within there boundaries and achieving economies of scale so that the return or output is greater than the input. Conversely inefficiency is wastefulness, poor time management, disorganized methods, ineptitude and sub-optimal utilization of resources.

Productivity. Productivity implies yielding the desired results, creating sound strategies, creativity in ideas, meeting business targets and delivering the appropriate business solutions.

When a team is behind in efficiency and productivity, the problem may not lie in their qualifications, experience or knowledge. The problem usually comes up because of the manner in which they manage their team roles as individuals. This is the nebulous area where self-improvement comes into play.

Self-improvement has nothing to do with technical knowledge. The concept of self improvement revolves around finding better ways and approaches to handle interaction, communication, work-flow, creation of ideas, decision making or people management. Self improvement is the term that is used to broadly describe everything to do with approach, attitudes and behaviour. It is sometimes referred to as “soft-skills”, and people don’t always view these highly. However, these so called soft skills can actually improve efficiency and productivity in the long-run. Even minor improvements in communication skills, organisation ability, time management, leadership skills, confidence etc, can generate significant improvement in the efficacy of the team process. Self-improvement is not restricted to any one industry or work type. It is something that individuals in any profession can benefit from.

Some examples of self-improvement needs across jobs types are given below:

  1. For sales teams, being able to sell a product is not enough. They have to be able to sell at a price that creates profits for the company. Negotiation skills are of prime importance. But negotiations skills will work best when combined with good people skills. Sales teams can benefit from self-improvement programs in effective communication and in the smart use of interpersonal skills during negotiations.
  2. I.T. teams in project management are increasingly playing a frontline role. They need to develop customer management skills in order to manage customer expectations and build trust among their customers.
  3. Software Development groups often can be late in delivering software projects. Teams involved in software development can benefit from self-improvement programs on how to efficiently manage an entire project. A recent book by Watts Humphrey titled Personal Software Process (PSP), A Self-Improvement Process for Engineers proposes proper planning. It follows a defined process and prioritization of the time spent on steps and processes that come up during software development.
  4. In the UK Police Force, providing training programs to hone leadership qualities is considered vital in order to support the drive to increase neighbourhood policing. (This was stated in a Home Office press release dated 9 Nov 2004 in a white paper). This is in a scenario where constables are taking on increasingly skilled roles within neighbourhood policing teams, managing a diverse range of staff and acting as community leaders. The proposals also include ‘establishing a National Policing Improvement Agency to embed a culture of self-improvement and customer service in the police service and provide a focused momentum for modernisation’.
  5. In the outsourcing age, Call Centre teams operating from Asian centres find the key requirement is basic education and the ability to speak English to a particular standard in a neutral or western accent. They don’t need to be highly educated. But there are certain psychological training programs that they can benefit from. Key issues would be; a helpful attitude, speaking with confidence yet non-aggressively, being polite and yet to be able to communicate in a business like manner etc.

While self-improvement spans a whole range of specific skills like improved communication, building confidence, time-management and so on, let’s consider one skill that is most sought after by organisations in all industries and business segments i.e., Innovative Thinking.

Innovative thinking is something all teams are constantly asked to deliver, although that spark of creativity does not always come to the fore. It may be under the surface, lying dormant and unused and all it takes is a little bit of orientation in ‘stretching the imagination’. An organisation feels disappointed when teams do not deliver new and contempory ideas. This leads to the feeling that their teams are in-effective. This spark of creativity can easily be tapped however, if an organisation sets aside a few hours for training their teams in developing this innate ability. Every team member has to be oriented in out-of-the-box thinking so that the collective thoughts of the team that are thrown up during their discussions will hopefully result in great ideas, solutions, business strategies or competitive tactics that can potentially have a major impact.

One such advocate of creativity in the work place is Edward De Bono. The ‘Six Thinking Hats’ program developed by him is now applied all over the world by major corporations, advertising agencies, professional sports groups and many businesses to increase the effectiveness of their teams. The vision in the Six Thinking Hats approach revolves around improving problem solving and decision making ability in teams, maximising team performance. The benefits it offers range from reducing time spent in team meetings, to rectifying behavioural issues. It offers scope for every team member to use a disciplined process and, therefore, improves focus within the team, introducing parallel thinking into team meetings.

Similarly, self-improvement measures in various other areas can also change teamwork for the better. Self-improvement brings out the best in people and goes beyond honing job related skills or technical expertise. It’s about honing personal qualities and abilities. Self improvement is all about evolving and changing for the better. It’s an orientation towards learning new approaches and making optimal use of one’s talents. This quote by Les Brown (Author and Motivational speaker) sums it up:

‘You cannot expect to achieve new goals or move beyond your present circumstances unless you change.’


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