One of the most defining features of a team is the ability to come together and work on a project, or series of projects, in order to complete the tasks and achieve success.
It is easier said than done. While things may look straightforward, they almost never are. The more a team works on a project, and the further along it gets, the more complicated and time consuming it becomes.
Lots of unexpected problems and tasks marked “ASAP”, lots of backtracking, and solving small issues and changes that don’t really amount to anything.
This is what’s known as a rut or a plateau.
Basically, the team has progressed and achieved some semblance of success, but has arrived at a point where it’s stuck in place and cannot progress anymore.
Hitting a plateau is not as disturbing as it might seem, and it happens to almost every team out there. It’s one of the challenges that your team will have to face. But it will not be a comfortable one.
You will need to take some drastic measures, re-plan your moves, re-design the team as a whole, and make some rather difficult decisions along the way.
But what are the actual symptoms of plateauing?
1. The Main Focus Shifts to Busywork
The more a project advances, the more additional tasks start appearing. While these tasks are important and have their own role within the project, they don’t really contribute to the overall growth of the project itself.
At first, such busy work is hardly noticeable. But it slowly creeps up the more a project advances and grows, to the point where it takes up the majority of the allotted work time.
This is the first sign of plateauing. The main issue is that these tasks can’t really be ignored either. They need to be completed and the issues need to be solved in for the project to move forward. But by the time you solve one load of busywork, another one arrives.
2. Lack of Realistic Planning
Proper planning is crucial to the growth and success of a project. Initially, the team will follow a set plan to accommodate the growth and evolution of the project. The more the project advances, however, the actual planning process bogs down.
This is a direct result of the aforementioned influx of busywork. With almost the entirety of the team’s focus shifted to it, it becomes very difficult to actually come up with both short and long-term plans.
Ultimately, because of all the busy work, planning simply becomes an exercise in futility, and whenever the subject comes up, it will generally be met with an unrealistic and broad answer.
This leads to missed deadlines, team members being stressed out, constant rushing, and chaotic work-flow.
3. Shallow Ideas and Lack of in-depth Strategies
Because of all the busy work and chaos fom the lack of planning, the team itself cannot stay focused on a clear path or objective for long enough to come up with ideas that they can formulate into a strategy.
We cannot think properly and strategize if we do not focus and concentrate on a specific subject.
If the team members have to take care of a lot of different small tasks, often times not really related to each other, then they cannot come up with solid and meaningful ideas. As a result, they cannot formulate a strategy and cannot actually change anything regarding the situation in which the team is.
How Can You Deal With Plateauing?
Dealing with plateauing is not an easy thing to do. At Setapp, we have been through a plateauing period of our own.
What we found was if you take a few steps back, assess the situation, and analyze the problems, you can come up with a proper plan to deal with plateauing and get back on track.
There are 3 main points that you will need to cover:
1. Gather Info and Feedback from Each Team Member
This is to help you understand how the team members see the process, how they feel, what stresses them out, what hinders them, and what they feel needs to be done.
With this information, you actually gain a lot more insight on the matter, as well as a better understanding of the people you are working with and what they are willing to do.
Your team members will, more or less inadvertently, offer you suggestions and ideas on how to fix certain issues that the team is having.
2. Make Busywork a Non-issue
Busywork is more or less at the root of the whole problem. To solve it, you will have to take it out of the equation.
What you need to do is look at all the tasks that the team has had to deal with since it plateaued, and see the sheer amount of busy work that they had to deal with.
Check and see if there are patterns that emerge, like certain tasks repeating themselves at certain intervals or as a result of certain actions or decisions. This will help you anticipate such tasks in the future, and mitigate them before they even pop up.
Next, you will want to see how much of this busy work was actually necessary.
While it is true that a rather sizable chunk of busywork is important to the stability of the project, there are also tasks that are simply a waste of time.
See which ones were a waste of time and take them out of the work-flow, thus ignoring them or such future tasks if they were to pop up in the future.
Lastly, come up with a plan so that if small tasks appear in the future, you can condense them all together and have 1 or 2 people take care of them, freeing up the rest of the team to get everything else ready to meet the deadlines.
3. Promote and Facilitate Communication
Something else you will see when talking to your team members and looking through past tasks is that there is usually a serious miscommunication problem between either different departments, different teams, or between team members themselves.
We, for example, had developers and marketers work in different teams. This resulted in a very slow decision-making process, a lot of misunderstandings along the way, and overall below-average quality.
By encouraging communication between departments and the team members themselves, you will help the team become a lot more efficient, and able to plan ahead properly.
This is because they will be able to understand each other’s needs, problems, and roles a lot easier, getting more or less on the same page with each other.
Get them all involved in the same project, have them work closely together, and things will start moving in the right direction in next to no time at all.
Plateauing is something that happens to every team sooner or later. It can be frustrating and stressful, and you can feel like you’re stuck.
Remember that there are ways of getting over this hurdle. If you take a bit of time to take a few steps back, talk to each team member, look over the tasks, make busywork a non-issue, and get everyone on the same page, you will be well on your way out of the plateau.
Soon enough, the team will be planning, coming up with strategies, and moving back in the right direction again.
How Do You Overcome a Plateau in Your Team?
If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!
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