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Whether on a hiring freeze, performing necessary layoffs or in-process of building a new team, nearly every leader will be tasked at some point with managing and maximizing a lean team.
While this is inevitable at times, how do you ensure business continues to run smoothly? Below are a few ways to cope with and even excel with a skeletal team:
PLAN VACATION REQUESTS
While vacation time is important (and research shows it can increase productivity), it is especially important in a lean team to ensure business can continue to run smoothly during employee absences. It’s impractical for everyone on a team to take off at once while coverage is still needed. To protect the group’s goals and continue progress on various projects, leaders should remind the team of their vacation policy and work to map out coverage in advance. For instance, how far in advance do employees need to request PTO? Is approval based on a first-come first-serve basis? Communicate best practices with staff to ensure everyone is on the same page. Managers should also ask employees to add what days they’re out to their calendars so they have a visual reminder of who's taking time off when.
If employees are taking time off, ensure the team is prepared ahead of time. Consider crafting a checklist of priority items to hit before an employee leaves, as well as what will need attention while they’re out. Managers can then assign those projects to others on the team to cover while the employee is out. Also, if the employee has client interaction (and/or owes them something while out), they should inform them that they’ll be out for an extended period of time. It’s nice to get a heads up as opposed to getting an unexpected OOO message. To make it easier for the employee to return, encourage them to create a task list of what they need to hit when they’re back.
EMBED COLLABORATION INTO YOUR CULTURE
Encouraging collaboration and making it a regular part of the team culture is key for employees to cover for each other and pick up slack when needed. One way to do this is to create documents with best practices that highlight how to do specific tasks step-by-step. Then, when someone needs help or additional coverage is needed on a certain project, less time is required to get teammates up to speed. Cross training can also generate efficiency as the team evolves and talent is added. It fosters camaraderie as employees learn from each other while providing the team with a safety net. In addition, each team member will become more well-rounded and learn a diverse set of skills.
CHALLENGE YOUR HI-PO
A lean team means there is less room for error, and greater visibility for both those who excel and take on more, as well as those who fall behind. Managers can identify who their high-potentials are on the team and use this as an opportunity to see how they rise to the occasion. Do they raise their hand to help when employees are out? Can they handle the new projects? Pay attention to which employees continue to deliver and take on the biggest projects, and offering to pitch in and help others.
MAKE RECOGNITION A PRIORITY
While employees are working in overdrive to keep up with demands, they run the risk of burning out or feeling underappreciated. This may create a risk of turnover. Managers should make recognizing their teams for their effort a top priority, keeping them engaged and wanting to achieve more.
Creating a community of support where peers celebrate the wins of one another is also key to helping prevent turnover and supporting a healthy workforce. When employees feel a personal connection to their coworkers and perceive a positive work environment they are more likely to remain at their company longer.
Many teams are more overloaded than ever, and managers are stretched to their max. Creating a culture of respect and camaraderie is essential, and strategically preparing to keep teams productive and engaged is essential.
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