The Top 2 Strategies to Improve Workplace Productivity

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Smarter Faster Better" by Charles Duhigg. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Could your workplace productivity use a boost? Would you like to learn how to get more done professionally?

In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg shares two principles that are crucial to improving workplace productivity. Becoming more productive isn’t about working more hours or constantly pushing yourself to do more. Instead, it’s about making wise choices in certain areas. 

Read more to learn how to improve workplace productivity.

2 Principles to Improve Workplace Productivity

Many of us wish that we could become more productive or increase the productivity of our organization. However, it’s not always clear how to do this. Here are two principles that provide insight and direction.

Principle #1: Build a Productive Team

An important aspect of workplace productivity is building productive teams. In a team situation, making sure you’re personally productive isn’t always enough for you to achieve your goals. The team as a whole needs to be productive. But how can you build a productive team?

Research suggests that the membership of a team is not all that important when it comes to workplace productivity. The “who” doesn’t really matter. Instead, a team’s productivity is influenced by the norms that its members adopt

Norms are the unspoken and unwritten rules that we abide by. Studies have shown that certain norms are more likely to foster productive teamwork. In particular, creating a norm of psychological safety is crucial. 

If a team is psychologically safe, its members feel that they can speak their minds and share their ideas without fear of retribution. They feel that mistakes won’t be harshly criticized, and that dissenting views won’t be silenced.

Creating an atmosphere of psychological safety is usually the onus of a team’s leader. The leader must ensure that two conditions are in place:

  • All team members equally participate in discussions.
  • Team members are sensitive to the emotions of their colleagues and acknowledge these emotions appropriately.

Principle #2: Manage a Productive Workforce

Managing a productive workforce is another important facet of workplace productivity. According to Duhigg, workers become more productive when they believe two things: that they have the authority to make decisions, and that their managers trust them and want them to succeed. It’s the responsibility of managers to create a company culture in which these two statements are true. 

One technique that managers can implement to create such a culture is lean manufacturing. In lean manufacturing, the person closest to a problem is given the authority to make decisions on how to solve it. This is true of all workers, from janitors to executives. Everyone is given a small amount of control and responsibility. In short, all workers have the authority to make decisions, even if these decisions are relatively small. Therefore, lean manufacturing satisfies the first element of Duhigg’s metric.

However, implementing lean manufacturing isn’t always simple. Even if every worker is given a small amount of control, they may not feel comfortable enough to use it. They may fear punishment if they make a bad choice or act against the wishes of their superiors. To help workers feel comfortable enough to implement the practices of lean manufacturing, managers should also try to create a commitment culture

What Is a Commitment Culture?

As the name suggests, this is a company culture in which employers make clear their commitment to each employee’s growth and success. In return, each employee shows commitment to their employer. This mutual commitment breeds an atmosphere of trust: employers trust employees to work effectively and diligently, while employees trust that employers have their backs and won’t punish them needlessly. In such an atmosphere, lean manufacturing can flourish.

But how can you create a commitment culture? Implementing lean manufacturing can in itself help to lay the groundwork for such a culture. Giving each employee some degree of decision-making power shows that you value them and their expertise. It also demonstrates that you trust them to make good decisions.

Other steps that managers can take to create a commitment culture include investing in employee training; offering generous employee benefits; and refusing to lay off employees unless strictly necessary.

Follow these two principles, and you are sure to improve workplace productivity and get more done every day.

The Top 2 Strategies to Improve Workplace Productivity

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Here's what you'll find in our full Smarter Faster Better summary:

  • Why becoming more productive isn’t about working longer hours or constantly pushing yourself to do more
  • The 8 principles for improving productivity
  • How to create a work culture in which each employee is truly valued

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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