Productivity is typically thought of as very individual. For me, it's about my calendar, the items I can check off my "to do" list, and a tendency to judge myself pretty harshly for tasks undone. Like many of you, I'm interested in finding better ways to get more done.

Team productivity, however, is rooted in our group's dynamics and is just as important to our sense of accomplishment. After all, few of us work truly independently. Much of our work is connected to the productivity (and timing) of others getting their tasks done and executing a handoff. Or being able to meet when we're ready and available. Or having reached the same conclusions to the problem at hand and being ready to dive in and solve it.

As leaders, we often overlook the simple, practical steps we can take to create a more productive work environment for our teams. Yves Morieux makes the case for simplification on one of my favorite Ted Talks here.

Building on the idea that complex work requires focus and fewer distractions, here are five easy steps to help increase team productivity next week. And, yes, you'll have to cross off all five items for the magic to work. These just might change your week for the better.

  1. Cancel all standing meetings (such as staff, project status, coordination) that you know have not had substantive changes since last week. As you hit “cancel this occurrence,” listen for the soft cheers coming from the cubes. Clearing your staff’s calendars upfront helps open their minds to alternative activities.
  2. Pick a milestone or big deliverable from your team’s current project(s) that could theoretically be done in a week. Do a bit of planning and then call a special (short) meeting on Monday morning to present the challenge. Don’t risk your credibility by inventing a fake, externally driven deadline. Instead, introduce the task simply by saying something like, “Hey, we’d all benefit from knocking out this (INSERT BIG TASK NAME) this week. We’ll have a chance to change this up, work a bit differently, and get some needed momentum going into the next phase.”
  3. Mix up the staff who typically work together. Explain that you’re looking for fresh ideas to come out of the reconfigured working groups. Set your expectations by sharing that the goal is for the new teams to spark ideas with each other that may not otherwise happen with more familiar coworkers. John Rampton provides some specific suggestions here on how to build productive teams.
  4. Immerse yourself in the project. Leading by example is key to getting teams to act together effectively. The benefit is that you'll be working right there side by side (or virtually) and will see and be able to quickly work through any hurdles.
  5. Schedule a brief out. Convey your confidence in everyone’s ability to pull together to accomplish great things. You’re so confident, if fact, that we’re going to go ahead and schedule a meeting with the client/executive/investor to share what we’ve done.

Once you're done, encourage the team to blow off some steam and marvel at the tremendous power of focus.