Why is it so difficult to achieve efficiency within a project?

William Bauer

If the saying goes, "the more the merrier". You'll agree that we can quickly go from laughter to tears when it comes to all of us collaborating at work. Yet effective professional collaboration can have a positive impact on your team and your organization, improving efficiency, innovation and team relationships. So why is it so difficult to achieve efficiency when there are many of you? Here we look at 4 reasons why it is not so easy to be truly efficient when working in a team. Once you have understood these obstacles, it will be easier to find concrete solutions to help you organize your work better. 

Efficiency / effectiveness: what are the differences?

Before understanding how to achieve better team performance, it is important to review the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness. In his book, The Practice of Business Leadership, Peter Drucker said: "Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. In other words, working efficiently is about making sure your work is done the "right" way: moving through tasks faster, completing work with fewer resources, accomplishing large projects on a tight budget, etc. It's about doing "more" with "less". To summarize, we can say that efficiency is effectiveness at a lower cost. For a team, it consists of achieving the objectives that have been set for it without exceeding the means that have been allocated to it. No wonder the quest for this ideal is fraught with difficulties.

Why do we find it difficult to be efficient in a team?

Team efficiency is not the same as individual efficiency

Since our childhood, we are taught at school that we should not copy on our neighbor. Using someone else's knowledge to solve a problem is considered cheating! Our school system values individual excellence. It leaves little room for teamwork. And yet, as soon as we enter the working world, we are told that we must organize ourselves as a team. It's hard to find your feet in this new collaborative world after years of being lulled by the glorious sound of individual success. This negative conditioning is clearly detrimental to successful teamwork. We must therefore learn that being efficient alone does not mean being efficient in a team. One might think that the goals of team organization are just the accumulation of personal goals. They are not. There are subtleties that explain why we do not maximize the team's potential because we do not master all the issues.

It is impossible to communicate about everything, all the time, with everyone

Although the objectives are collective and shared, the missions of each person impose to work "in his corner". It is totally impossible to communicate on all the tasks performed, in real time and to everyone. Not to mention the generalization of telecommuting, which has clearly not helped matters by damaging informal communication networks within the company. Enterprise-wide remote working can indeed make internal collaboration networks more static and siloed and reduce bridges between parties. A September 2021 study published in Nature and co-authored by Professor David Holtz of Berkeley Haas (UC Berkeley's business school) actually proves that in addition to no longer being immersed in the day-to-day environment and benefiting from the information that flows, employees who work from home communicate in a more siloed way, have fewer real-time conversations and spend fewer hours in meetings. This loss of information is detrimental to teamwork and efficiency. 

We have to deal with differences of opinion

In addition to these communication gaps, team efficiency can suffer from conflicts within the team. Different points of view can effectively divide rather than unite colleagues, if the opinions of others are misunderstood or misinterpreted. To enable the development of a common solution, each team member must try to discover the positive intentions behind the other's train of thought. This positive communication is one of the keys to achieving team efficiency. 

Our modes of expression are biased

Collaborating in a team often involves non-physical modes of communication: email, slack, etc. These written documents are subject to the reader's interpretation and can sometimes be misunderstood. During written professional exchanges, collaborators cannot rely on the intonations and strong signs allowed by the verbal and body language of a face-to-face discussion. These situations can be a real barrier to achieving transparency and optimal communication, the keys to team efficiency. It is no coincidence that video conferencing has become so popular during periods of confinement. With video in addition to audio, the effectiveness of the videoconference meeting is similar to that of physical meetings; the behavioral codes are the same.  

It is necessary to first understand these obstacles to efficiency in order to be able to overcome them by better organizing one's work and collaborating better. Staying organized at work, fully aware of your environment and the existence of other stakeholders, is the key. How do I organize the subjects I am working on? How do I ensure that the teams are always well aligned? One way to do this is to allocate your time optimally.

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