How to Increase Productivity — Even When You’re Not Leading the Team

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Jul 21, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”—Zig Ziglar, American motivational speaker

Active, participative teamwork has become crucial to the modern business environment.

Gone are the days when one person could anchor a team by doing everything well — or doing everything, period. Even superstar athletes like LeBron James and Sidney Crosby depend on the talents and hard work of their teammates to excel.

Modern business is too complex to know or do it all; this has necessarily led to specialization. We need capable people in multiple slots to accomplish specific business goals, no matter how narrow those goals — especially in this era of business agility.

Ideally, a supervisor would tie everyone together into a team with specific goals and challenges, motivating them to do their best work as a cohesive unit. But even the best leaders can’t always go it alone, so it may be up to you to help take up the slack.

This may seem like an inconceivable task on the face of it, but believe me, it isn’t — you don’t have to undermine the team leader to do it, either. He or she need not even notice you’re doing anything, only that your team functions remarkably well.

How does this work?

Reaching out

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that happy workers are more productive workers. You’ve surely seen this in yourself. However, it may surprise you to learn that, according to a 2012 study, workers seem to respond more productively to social support from co-workers than they do from supervisors.

Workers with co-worker support miss fewer days, automatically increasing their productivity. This offers you an ideal opportunity to boost co-worker productivity — just by being nice to people.

The study’s conclusions derive from a population of Chinese workers at the same company, so the author admits it may not apply to everyone, since Chinese workers and management tend to have more distant relationships than their American counterparts. However, there remains an enforced distance between rank-and-file and management in most Western workplaces as well, so it’s worth applying the results to your own co-workers to help keep the team on an even keel.

The boost may even work better when continued outside the workplace. After all, what’s wrong with making friends with your co-workers?

That’s where many of us find our friends and spouses anyway, and we spend nearly as much time with them as with our families – if not more. As Heather Hurman points out in an October 2014 Infographics article in Entrepreneur, positive work relationships can make a big difference in worker satisfaction — and inevitably, in productivity.

Celebrate good times

Celebrating accomplishments, milestones like anniversaries and birthdays, and promotions also raises spirits. People naturally feel happier when they like and respect those they work with, translating almost inevitably to increased productivity.

Just as Michal Biron has documented decreased work absences based on increased social contact between co-workers, in the book The Village Effect, author Susan Pinker suggests that weakening social contact results in poorer business relationships.

Conversely, strengthening social contacts, particularly with face-to-face conversation, also strengthens productivity. Pinker proposes that harmonious personal contact may stimulate the release of oxytocin, a mood-heightening brain chemical that also helps us remember and learn. If so, then Nature seems to have hardwired humans for sociability.

Therefore, it benefits everyone for you to be more social. If this makes you the team “cheerleader,” so what? There are worse roles.

In fact, you can actually offer to act as morale officer, or just appoint yourself as such unofficially. Sure, some people won’t respond well, but that’s inevitable in any group. Even getting through to one or two people will result in increased team productivity, helping you because it helps everyone.

Positively charged

Maintaining a relentlessly positive attitude offers another way to boost your team’s overall productivity quotient. A bad attitude about your work, gossiping, rumor-mongering, and undermining your leader’s authority can kill productivity.

A positive attitude can have the opposite effect. It’s not hard to be positive; instead of griping when faced with problems, reframe them as challenges and work on conquering them.

Your positive attitude may also offset a whiner or mutterer’s negative effects, so go for it.

Leading from within

It may not be your job to boost your teammates’ productivity, but as I pointed out earlier, doing so helps you all, just as a rising tide lifts all boats. Besides, “That’s not my job” remains the worst excuse any worker can roll out, especially when the company or team needs your help.

You may not be the leader, but you can definitely make your presence felt, and your team productivity shine, just by doing your best to be a nice person.

It may sound like a naïve dream, but it works — if you want it to.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.