By Erica Janes – the Muse
Fast is a fact of life these days, especially when it comes to business. No matter the industry, chances are you’re part of a team that’s expected to be agile, always-on, and able to pivot priorities based on anything from the company’s quarterly earnings to a client’s whims—all, of course, while meeting your KPIs.
Sound familiar? We’re guessing it does.
A successful fast-paced team starts with good leadership—someone who’s setting the vision for where the team is going. A team’s leader must paint the picture of what success looks like from the team’s perspective, keep everyone focused on that vision, and adjust it continuously to stay on track.
But keep in mind that any member of a team can act as a leader, says Bonnie Timms Hagemann, an executive coach and the CEO of Executive Development Associates. “If you see a leadership gap, step in,” she says. “That doesn’t mean you try to move your boss aside, it just means that you become an influential leader. You can be that person by giving credible ideas and making sure your voice is heard.”
So how do you do your best work on a team that’s nimble and has constantly moving targets? We asked Timms Hagemann and other experts for advice on how to succeed in business when fast-paced is the new normal.
1. Be a Team Player
A crucial element to success on an agile team—or any team, really—is unity. So you’ll need to set your ego aside and adopt the mindset that it’s not about you; it’s about your team working as one unit to achieve business objectives. Ask co-workers what they need to get their work done and tell them what you need to do yours.
To that end, another key part of working together on a fast-paced team where tensions can flare: Think before you speak. When you have a lot of deadlines, changing priorities, and external pressure to get things done, it can be easy to let your stress creep into how you interact with others. But being considerate in how you communicate can go a long way toward making things run smoothly. (On the flip side, try to let it go when an email from a co-worker occasionally comes across as a bit curt—maybe they’re just trying to fire off a message as quickly as possible.)
2. Communicate Consistently
Fast-paced teams must communicate frequently (dare we say near-constantly) in order to ensure that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to priorities, progress, pivots, and next steps.
Whether your team gathers for in-person daily huddles, has twice-weekly meetings, or posts on Slack or G-chat throughout the day—or all of the above—the key is that the communication is group-wide (so everyone is included) and trackable (so everyone is accountable).
Brian Smith, PhD, an organizational psychologist and the author of Individual Advantages: Find the I in Team, favors written communication for a number of reasons: First, having everything in writing makes it easier to bring new team members up to speed quickly. Second, any issues can easily be identified and clarified. And finally, having a written record of the communication leading up to a decision makes it easier to analyze how a decision was made—which is often a must when you’re working in a fast-paced environment.
3. Stay Laser-Focused on Priorities
On a fast-paced team, projects and priorities can shift by the day—if not more frequently. That’s why communication (see above) and organization (see below) are key. It’s imperative that you and your team leader are in alignment on which tasks or projects you should focus on.
To stay on top of those agreed-upon priorities, create a to-do list based on the most important assignments, recommends Kenyetta Nesbitt, a career development strategist and founder of Ambition Evolve Career Consulting. “This keeps you on track with what you’re expected to complete, and keeps deadlines in front of your face so that you can pace yourself and focus on tasks based on their level of urgency and importance,” she says.
Then, she adds, block off 30-minute or 1-hour segments of time throughout the work day—actually schedule them on your work calendar—to build in time to focus on an individual task during each block of time. That way, even if last-minute meetings pop up, you’ve ensured that you have time for your most pressing tasks.
4. Use Technology to Stay Organized
There are tons of project management software options available (Jira, Trello, and Basecamp are three you may be familiar with) to help track projects, and your team may already use at least one of them. Just make sure the tool your team uses to stay organized is really the best one to help your meet your goals.
Smith uses a tool called Zoho for team-based project work; it’s fluid and has built-in project tracking for milestones, assignments and tasks, and data sharing. “But there are other options that offer little idiosyncrasies that can be favored by users, so do a little due diligence for your team,” he recommends.
Once you’ve picked a tool, become a champion of it and ensure that your team uses it to its fullest advantage. “Having just one member of the team circumvent a chosen organizational tool will quickly lead to disorganization and project challenges,” Smith adds.
5. Take a Break
Even the busiest teams need to build in downtime. No one does their best work when they’re operating in a fatigue-based mental fog and and on the brink of burnout. If client demands or pressing deadlines mean long hours for your team, talk to your co-workers to find a solution. Can you stagger work so that each member is able to take off early once a week? Or is there a day when everyone could agree to break early? And if you’re in a creative rut or stuck on a problem, getting out of the office and changing your scenery could spark the idea you need to move your team forward.
Being part of a fast-paced team can be stressful, sure, but it can also be thrilling. And by being a leader, a team player, a communicator, and a pro at prioritizing, you can be successful—at any pace.