Culture  | 4 MIN. READ

Task-Swapping And How to Develop Greater Employee Engagement

Kimberly Douglas, October 26, 2018

We all have things about our jobs that we hate. Whether it’s creating spreadsheets, writing reports, or presenting to a group, there are always going to be certain tasks that get pushed to the bottom of the to-do lists because we just can’t stomach the work.  What if you could pawn those tasks off on someone else? We all have things about our jobs that we hate. Whether it’s creating spreadsheets, writing reports, or presenting to a group, there are always going to be certain tasks that get pushed to the bottom of the to-do lists because we just can’t stomach the work.

What if you could pawn those tasks off on someone else?

Gallup data shows that the more employees get to do work that they are good at and enjoy, the more engaged and productive they are. That translates to real business results. Gallup has consistently found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent. Yet we continue to slot employees into predefined roles that include many activities that may not be the best use of their time and skills.

When companies are willing to shift their mindset away from strictly defined roles based on job descriptions written years ago, to a more fluid environment where tasks are doled out based on the interests of the team, then everyone ends up spending less time doing tasks that they hate, and more time focused on where they excel. That makes them happier, more productive, and more engaged.

What do You Like to do?

I often do an activity with teams where I ask each individual to think about their current job then to write down the kinds of tasks they do best, and what they do “least best.” When I ask them to share the results it can be eye opening. Most people assume that everyone hates the same things they do, when in fact we all have different areas where we thrive. Public speaking is a perfect example — some people love to be in the spotlight, while others get nauseous at the very idea.

When teams share insights on what they love and hate to do, it breaks down silos between job roles, and can create opportunities for individuals to swap tasks, so everyone is happier with their daily load.

Some companies refer to this management process as holocracy, in which self-organizing teams set a defined goal they jointly distribute work and accountability based on how they believe they will best able to achieve that goal. In these environments there are no managers. Team leaders are determined by who is best suited to be in charge of that particular project, and the team holds itself accountable for delivering results.

Companies don’t have to tear down their entire management structure to start benefiting from self-organizing teams and fluid job descriptions. As with all change initiatives, it’s possible to start small with one team on one project.

For example, I recently worked with an HR team at a finance company that was very good at conducting employee surveys, but they failed to communicate the results to employees or to tell them how they planned to respond. This frustrated employees, and made them feel like their opinions weren’t being valued.

In working with the team, I asked them each to rank the tasks they performed on the project, and through that process we discovered the person in charge of employee engagement loved analyzing the data and creating action plans to engage employees, but she was very uncomfortable leading small group sessions with employees. We ultimately paired her with another team member who loved running sessions, but didn’t enjoy the head-down analytics part of her role. Together they redistributed their tasks so each of them spent more time doing what they loved and where inherently best at.

For companies interested in testing this management style, it is easiest to begin with a new project or team. Giving team members the chance to define what they want to do and are best at can help team divvy up tasks more appropriately and generate the best results.

 

Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations. 

 

Kimberly Douglas, SHRM-SCP, CPF, is President of FireFly Facilitation, Inc., and is a nationally recognized strategic planning, team effectiveness, and innovation expert. Over the past 25 years, she has collaborated with hundreds of leaders — at organizations such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, McKesson, AT&T, and even the U.S. Marine Corps — to dramatically improve their business performance. A SHRM Senior Certified Professional and a Certified Professional Facilitator, Kimberly also holds a Master of Science in industrial/organizational psychology. Prior to founding FireFly seventeen years ago, Kimberly was an organization effectiveness manager for Coca-Cola; a Director of Consulting with the Hay Group; and served in HR leadership roles in the hospitality, telecommunications, and healthcare industries.

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