We’re often asked about using data from collaborative tools to measure the productivity of individuals. My response to this question is that it is ultimately far more interesting and valuable to look at whether people are working in productive teams. Does the environment and structure at the team level support productivity? After all, you can hire the best talent available but if you place people in a chaotic and unfocused environment, they are likely to be unproductive.
After all, you can hire the best talent available but if you place people in a chaotic and unfocused environment, they are likely to be unproductive.
We recently collaborated with an marketing company that was struggling with productivity issues. Some of their project teams were consistently delivering late or poor quality work and they had a sense that this was down to individual productivity. We used organizational network analysis to take a closer look at how their teams were working together, with the goal of providing insight into the issue.
Internal vs External Focus
Productive project teams tend to be autonomous and focused. Having multiple external stakeholders or shared resources can create bottlenecks and slow decisions.
We performed an analysis of external vs internal (E/I Analysis) collaboration in project teams using data from email, calendar, document repository, and project management tools. E/I Analysis compares the percentage of time team members spend collaborating with each other, against time they spend collaborating with individuals outside of their team. This data is used as a proxy for how focused and autonomous a project team is.
A highly focused team should ideally invest a significant portion of its time in internal collaboration. This of course differs from team to team but in our analysis of over 150 organizations we’ve found that a ratio of around 60/40 (internal/external) is about average for teams of knowledge-workers. Below are the results of our analysis for one of the project teams.
They appeared to be spending all of their time sending email, in meetings, chatting, writing documentation and working on tickets with other teams and departments.
In this case, our analysis showed that a few of the project teams were spending upwards of 75% of their time on external collaboration. In other words, their project teams appeared highly dependent on external resources or stakeholders. They appeared to be spending all of their time sending email, in meetings, chatting, writing documentation and working on tickets with other teams and departments. Far from what we would expect of a focus and autonomous project team.
We also looked into which departments the external interactions were with. Interestingly we found that the majority were with only two other departments: Customer Service and Sales. These two customer-focused teams accounted for over 65% of the interaction with the underperforming project teams.
Impact of Externally Focus Teams
To highlight the impact of these external interactions, we performed an activity analysis using data from calendar, email and messaging platforms within the organization. The activity analysis is designed to give a sense of the typical day-to-day life of team members and the impact that external interruptions have on this.
Research indicates that knowledge workers require significant periods of uninterrupted time to focus and problem solve. Before and after every interruption there is a ramp up and ramp down time while people get back into the problems they were working on. This is best illustrated by the image below:
The impact of a small meeting on the schedule of a knowledge worker - source
Our analysis highlighted that several individuals within the underperforming project teams had highly disrupted schedules, with multiple meetings and other interruptions per day.
Our analysis highlighted that several individuals within the underperforming project teams had highly disrupted schedules, with multiple meetings and other interruptions per day. This indicated that people had limited time available to focus on important tasks and deliverables. The diagram below illustrates a typical day in the life of a team member and highlights estimated impact on productivity.
Diagram highlighting the impact of interruptions on the productivity of a team member. Even though they are in the office for 8 hours a day they only have around 2 hours to really focus on the work that matters
Our results indicated that the environment and work habits at the team level were likely a significant driver of productivity issues. Consistent interruptions and collaborative overload appeared to be making it hard to get work done. Direct feedback from the team members confirmed these findings. People had previously complained about the environment being disruptive but without the data not much was done about it.
We provided managers with a series of recommendations to help them build more focused team environments. This included actions such as providing single points of contact between Customer Service and project teams. We have also worked to provide “focused time” as a core metric for success on teams and as a way to ensure that similar issues are rapidly identified in future.