1. Clearly Define Tasks and Roles

This may seem obvious, but it’s an important priority. If responsibilities are not well-organized among various team members, crucial project milestones may fall between the cracks. This can divide your team and waste valuable time and energy as you retrace steps that should’ve already been completed and figure out who dropped the ball.

Everyone on your team should understand how they should be spending their time, from what tasks are their responsibility to which projects they should be prioritizing.

2. Openly Set and Track Goals

Once roles and responsibilities have been clearly established, it’s important to set some goals for your team. As with tasks, team goals should be transparent to all members.

By defining goals and monitoring progress towards them, feedback from managers and other team members becomes an ongoing conversation. And, it reduces the time spent in meetings getting everyone “caught up” with where other team members are at on their projects.

3. Offer Incentives

Hitting milestones and completing projects is rewarding for your team in itself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy them a couple of pizzas, too. Even small incentives have a positive effect. Consider letting your team suggest some incentives that will motivate them. (Bizarre as it sounds, not everyone likes pizza.) If your team is working particularly hard to meet their goals, a little recognition of that extra effort can go a long way.

4. Manage Distractions

Distractions are, by definition, difficult to ignore. How many times do you come into the office with only one project to work on that day? How many times has a team member or project manager interrupted you with the phrase “Got a minute?” (Has it ever actually only been one minute?)

Set up blocks of time for your people to work uninterrupted by phone calls, notifications and instant messages related to other matters. Perhaps encourage team members to mark “busy” time in their calendars to communicate this concept to the rest of the team. It’s important that everyone understands the “how and why” of this practice, though. If some team members or support staff don’t get that this actually helps productivity, they’re more likely to ignore the process.

In the same respect, you may wish to establish periods for team members to check personal email, discuss other projects, or even just walk outside for some fresh air. They can then come back to their primary tasks renewed and unencumbered by other responsibilities.

5. Meet with Your Team Regularly

Wait a minute. What was all that about defined tasks and transparent goals? Do you really need to waste time with a meeting, just for the sake of having a meeting?

Of course not. But periodic, consistently scheduled meetings will go more smoothly knowing that everyone is starting on the same page. Instead of communicating through long and hard to follow email or IM chains (or “Got a minute?” meetings), sessions of open communication are an ideal time for group brainstorming, conflict resolution, or revamping of tasks that can save everyone time in the long run.

Meetings on a set schedule are more practical than impromptu “Everyone in the conference room!” scenarios that can that can halt the productivity of the entire group just to hash out a single issue. Make a list of items to be discussed with all team members at once, and know when the appropriate time for that discussion will be.

Another option to consider are short, daily “stand-up” meetings where the most pertinent problems can be quickly addressed. We obviously don’t want too many meetings, but we also don’t want to stall progress waiting for a scheduled project meeting.

6. Avoid Micromanagement

You assigned these tasks to other people for a reason, right? Give your team some room to make judgements on their own. If every member has to stop and account for each step at any given moment, productivity will suffer. Unless the issue is urgent, save it for the meeting.

7. Make use of Technology

Advances in technology over the past few years have made it easier than ever to connect, collaborate and organize with your team like never before. It is important to use the right tool for each job, though. Email chains are often not the best method for communicating complicated subjects among groups of people, particularly when tracking an issue that requires multiple parties working in discrete stages.

Consider Sifter for simple or complex issue tracking to provide clear status reports and improve accountability. Sifter even works well for the less technically savvy members of your team. Save time by tracking issues with one program, rather than sorting through an email chain with five or more contributors.

We want you to have a productive and successful new year. If you have any additional tips for keeping your team on track, let us know on Twitter @sifterapp.

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