How to unleash the potential of your team

This article is written by Anne Raimondi, COO at Asana.

A group of young people collaborate in a modern office.

There is truth in the phrase, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” When teams actually collaborate, they can accomplish just about anything. 

However, the reality is there’s always been friction in team collaboration—due to gaps in context and purpose, lack of clarity on who is doing what by when, and limited visibility into progress and impact. Throw in a global pandemic and the friction only increases across distributed teams.  

Anne Raimondi, COO at Asana.Anne Raimondi, COO, Asana

Today, teams spend more time coordinating work than actually doing it. According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index, the average person spends 63% of their time on work coordination—like writing emails, compiling status updates, and sitting through meetings. That means the average person is spending only 37% of their time on the skilled, strategic work they were actually hired to do. This leaves people feeling overworked, demotivated, and burned out. It creates a workplace where over a quarter of deadlines are missed.

 Work as we know it simply doesn’t work. We need to reimagine collaboration and help teams become more connected, engaged, and inspired to do great work together. As leaders, we need to ask ourselves tough questions, like:

  • How can I give all employees clarity on how their work directly contributes to the company’s mission and top-line goals?
  • How do I eliminate distractions and create more time for strategic work?
  • How can I get real-time visibility into work across departments and scale that visibility, without creating additional work? 

Shifting to a new way of working requires a cultural change, and leaders play a pivotal role in spearheading this future. Below are three ways you can ignite your teams to do their best work and help them rise to business challenges with clarity and confidence.

1. Align your organization around a clear purpose 

Achieving organization-wide alignment is not easy, especially with teams so widely distributed and challenges constantly evolving. Employees are struggling to adapt while prioritizing the work that matters most. Company goals are set and forgotten, and they are separated from the work itself. This causes a disconnect between effort and impact, leaving employees frustrated when their time is wasted and disengaged from the purpose of their work.      

Thriving companies have a clear vision of what they contribute to the world—and why. This is critical for attracting and retaining talent because people want to be part of organizations that do good. Great leaders recognize this and deeply understand that employees are most engaged when their effort directly contributes to the purpose of the company. To foster intrinsic motivation, great leaders set clear goals and empower employees to create their own objectives that directly ladder up. This is macromanagement—the antidote to micromanagement, and the key to greater employee happiness and engagement.

Talented people can spend their time anywhere. They value—and are the most valuable—when they are focused on the strategic, skilled work they were hired to do. One way to match effort with impact is to show how employees’ day-to-day work progresses top-line business goals in a centralized work management platform. This ensures the company’s most critical goals are always visible and at the forefront, while providing everyone with clarity on how their work directly contributes to the company’s mission.

2. Rethink how work is coordinated across teams

Cross-functional collaboration today is chaotic. Team “thrash” is often due to a lack of structure, context, and intention. Different teams use different tools to accomplish their work, resulting in siloed information across the organization. It’s hard to know what is going on from a mishmash of email threads, chat messages, documents, and spreadsheets—and quite frankly, it’s an outdated way of collaborating. To get context, teams spend too much time in meetings and, most of the time, they leave not knowing who is doing what, by when, and why.

Effective teamwork requires content (i.e., documents, spreadsheets, file sharing), communication (i.e., messaging, email, video conferencing), and coordination (i.e., work management). Many companies have invested in content and communication tools, but coordination is often forgotten. This ultimately leads to an overuse of tools like email, video conferencing, and chat messaging as employees constantly scramble to get and stay aligned.

A major benefit of work management platforms is they create a single source of truth and bring teams together in a single place to collaborate—a place connected to the work itself. Teams can suddenly find and coordinate work across the organization with accountability built in, so nothing falls through the cracks. They can also scale processes through workflows and even integrate third-party tools. This allows work to come to them while removing distractions and creating more time for strategic—and rewarding—work. 

3. Get real-time visibility into the state of your team’s work 

Today, work progress is spread out across too many tools, transforming reporting into an awkward patchwork of numbers. Teams are forced to choose between making an impact and tracking that impact. Meanwhile, leaders are scrambling to find out what’s going on via emails and meetings, often requiring teams to spin up reports, decks, agendas, and presentations that take away from their actual work. This pulls valuable team members away from serving customers, building new product features, or any number of strategic initiatives integral to the company. At the same time, leaders do need visibility and context into work across their organization to help problem solve and move the needle forward. 

This lack of visibility and context makes it difficult for leaders to answer these core questions:

  • Do I know what the most urgent issues are?
  • Do I know what’s blocking the most important initiatives?
  • Do I know where we have the most friction in the organization?
  • Do I know where we have the most opportunities to invest and grow?
  • Can I quickly understand all of the above and make the right decisions to drive things forward? 

One way leaders can get real-time visibility into progress across teams is by putting the work itself in a living, breathing system. Leaders can have a clear view into how work is tracking without creating more work, and teams can see how their efforts are making an impact. With all of that visible, teams can spearhead problem solving on their own or ask for specific help from their leaders. Then leaders can join teams in the place that matters to them—where they’re doing the actual work and with the full context. Because the last thing a team wants is for a leader to pop in, have no context, and dictate a solution.

Final thoughts: Reinventing collaboration

As a leader, you decide how your organization collaborates and adapts to change. The most successful leaders can swiftly react and lead in a way that expects change. They instill adaptability into how the company is run and encourage teams to embrace and celebrate change.

To inspire teams to do their best work, ask them these tough questions and be ready to hold yourself accountable: 

  • Are we doing everything we can to ensure your time is best spent? 
  • Each day at work, do you have a deep connection to, “I know what I’m doing and why it matters?”
  • Do you spend the majority of your time doing work you feel matters?
  • Do you see the results of your hard work?
  • When collaborating with colleagues, are you spending the majority of time on purposeful work? 

By empowering teams to spend their time doing the most meaningful work together, you’re on your way to solving some of the world’s most difficult challenges—because progress depends on teamwork.

Learn how Asana Enterprise can help your organization align, adapt, and scale with confidence.

Note: This article was created by Asana.