One choice of great teams

Is your team ineffective enough? Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Is your team ineffective enough? Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

In many ways, spending time off task is the exact opposite of what a great team and its members should be doing. After all, it is by definition, completely inefficient. Here is one of the secrets of great teams. Great teams prioritise effectiveness over efficiency. 

It may sound like I'm talking about the same thing or that it's just semantics, so I'll explain with a clear distinction. 

  • Prioritising efficiency focuses on improving processes

  • Prioritising effectiveness focuses on improving outcomes

In complex environments, effective beats efficient every time. One of the biggest mistakes that teams and leaders make is to try to chase marginal efficiency gains when they could be pursuing significant improvement in effectiveness. 

While great teams strive for both efficiency and effectiveness, they make a deliberate choice to prioritise effectiveness. Often, improving efficiency can lead to increased effectiveness. This is the story of marginal gains like James Clear talks about in Atomic Habits. As long as efficiency gains are aligned with improving effectiveness, that's great. We experience problems when efficiency and effectiveness are competing. In a business setting, it looks like call centres aiming to reduce their average handling time (efficiency) rather than increasing customer outcomes like satisfaction or resolution (effectiveness). 

Striving for effectiveness is challenging and goes against the scientific management approach that has dominated our working lives for hundreds of years. What we know is that we are currently operating in environments where it's simply not possible to control all of the variables that impact our work. Our world is too interconnected and moves too fast for us to know everything. We are also working with people, who are predictably irrational (according to behavioural economist Dan Ariely). When we try to reduce our team's way of working into a set of rationalised and prescribed interactions, we will inevitably reduce the ability of the team to perform at their best collectively.

In this environment straining for control and striving for ever more efficient processes is the wrong goal. Our teams might need to be more efficient. What's more likely is that your team needs to be more effective.

A couple of questions for you to consider this week:

  1. Does your team prioritise efficiency or effectiveness?

  2. What would it take for your team to be more effective?