In business school, my husband had the not-so-illustrious opportunity to be the “bottleneck” during a classroom demonstration of a business case. His job was to slow down operations, gum up processes, and generally make things difficult for the rest of the people on his team.
It was a fun “bad guy” role to play in class, but in reality, bottlenecks are lamented by most professionals, even the people causing the bottleneck in the first place. And on remote teams, bottlenecks occur in interesting ways, usually resulting from a mishap in collaboration and team management.
So on a remote team, what can people do to improve team workflow and remove bottlenecks?
Let’s dive into 3 steps to improve remote team workflow.
1. First, get to know the most common remote team bottlenecks.
A bottleneck can broadly be defined as anything that slows down a task or process, that diverts time and resources into less-than-useful pursuits, or that holds up a task or project from moving forward or being completed.
If you’ve worked on a remote team before, chances are you’ll be familiar with some of the things that most often interrupt remote team workflow (and some of these are also familiar to people who work on in-office teams!):
- Having inadequate, out-of-date, or less-than-useful tools or software
- Temporary, unexpected technology issues: power outage, slow or down internet service, broken or wonky web conferencing software, etc.
- Miscommunicating expectations or not being clear on the goal of a project or task
- Not having access to needed information
- Having one person be responsible for too much
- Too many meetings where the goal isn’t to help move along tasks and projects
2. Next, identify your own bottlenecks, and ask your team members to do the same.
The best way to figure out the disruption(s) in your remote team’s workflow is to ask them!
In a given day, what throws them off course? Where do they get hung up? What are their biggest questions about how things “work” around the “office”? What information do they wish they had access to? What technology do they use that is out of date or unreliable? What tools do they constantly wish they had?
When do they feel like the bottleneck holding something up? What do they see as the biggest blockers to their productivity?
There are a lot of ways to phrase these questions, and some questions that are even more pointed or specific to your team may help you pinpoint the root causes of your workflow bottlenecks.
3. Finally, get started clearing up your blockers!
On our team, we actually started including a “blockers” (a.k.a. bottlenecks) discussion during regular meetings, where we each are invited to discuss what’s stopping us from finishing a task or project.
Not only does it make people feel better to name their blockers out loud, but it also invites other team members to help brainstorm solutions.
Some folks have experienced the same blockers and can share what worked for them. Others have a random bit of knowledge that they didn’t know would be helpful to share. That piece of info winds up saving the blocked person countless hours and frustration.
And sometimes it helps us pinpoint when a person is actually the bottleneck, which lets us examine her responsibilities and either shift things around to free up her time, or even hire new talent to help lessen her responsibilities.
If technology is to blame for some of your blockers, start investigating other options for software, apps, or programs to replace the ones that aren’t working well for your team. We tend to test out several options before deciding which ones work best for our team to collaborate and get our work done.