This is part 2 of a post I wrote last week called “Why Smaller Teams Are Better Than Larges Ones.” In the first post I explored several concepts and research studies which all point to why smaller teams are more effective than larger ones. I touched on the Ringelmann Effect, Social Loafing, and Relational Loss; all theories that help explain why people don’t perform as well when their team size increases. Today I want to explore some things that organizations can actually do to help make sure their teams are more engaged and productive while countering some of the above. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Invest in collaboration technologies

Internal social networks, video conferencing solutions and the like are a great way for employees to stay connected anywhere, anytime, and on any device. As a result employees will get a better sense of how their individual contributions are impacting their teams and the organization as a whole. Companies investing in these technologies are also much more likely to offer flexible work environments which helps with employee engagement. These technologies also make it increasingly easy for managers and leaders to “listen” the pulse of the organization to better understand what employees value and care about. Finally, as a result of collaboration platforms employees can start to reduce their reliance on email which can be a massive time-suck.

Provide visibility into goals and objectives

At Morningstar Farms (who I will be writing about more in the future), employees create Colleague Letters of Understanding (CLOU) which is a personal mission statement for how the employee will help the organization including performance metrics. This CLOU is how employees hold each other accountable for various projects since they have complete visibility into each others goals, objectives, and performance metrics. As a result employees are not able to hide behind ambiguity which makes “social loafing” much harder. Morningstar Farms is also unique because they don’t have any managers but that’s another story. Technologies such as BetterWorks are also making goal setting transparent and scalable across the entire company.

Keep teams small(er)

By following the Jeff Bezos “two pizza rule” organizations are able to make sure that bureaucracy is kept to a minimum. This also prevents group-think from happening as employees are forced to share their own individual ideas instead of just blindly agreeing with others. While communication and collaboration are indeed good things it is certainly possibly to have too much of a good thing! As mentioned in part 1 of this post smaller teams are indeed more effective, productive, and engaged. If your team can’t be fed by two pizzas then it might be time to rethink the current structure or perhaps split them up into smaller teams.

Provide autonomy

One of the things I have learned from interviewing, working, and speaking with many organizations of the past few years (some of whom I have interviewed on my future of work podcast series) is that autonomy is a crucial factor for productivity and engagement. Nobody wants or likes to be micro-management. Instead of tracking hours organizations should focus on outcomes and outputs. As many organizations have told me, the role of managers is simply to help employees understand where the company needs to go, but how the company gets there is up to the employees. F5 Networks does an excellent job of this and they recently won a Glassdoor award for being one of the best companies in America to work for.

Challenge outdated management practices

Do annual reviews still make sense? What about strict hierarchy, centralized decision making, and constant expenses approvals? As the world of work continues to evolve and change organizations struggle to adapt. As the gap between the evolving workplace and our organizations grows, so do the disengagement rates. In fact, I believe this to be the single greatest cause for employee disengagement. The best thing that organizations can do to continuously improve engagement and productivity is to evaluate and test common assumptions around how work is currently being done. Adobe recently got rid of all annual employee reviews in favor of more regular “check-ins,” Automatic- the company behind WordPress (on which this blog is powered) operates a distributed team around the world, Buffer- the social media scheduling platform recently published their employee salaries for the world to see, Linkedin gives people a budget to take an “interesting person” out for coffee, Whirlpool abolished their managerial roles in favor of making everyone a “leader,” and the list goes on an on. All of these organizations are doing these things not just for fun, but to help improve engagement and productivity across the company. All of these organizations are challenging convention and thinking differently about work and so should you.