The Problems (and Some Solutions) in Organizational Task Management

As an organization scales, the time overhead required to manage growth and find the best minds to do The Work becomes an ongoing challenge. Conversely, without balance, employees' discipline and motivation take a hit and people slip into habits of convenience rather than behaviors in favor of long-term benefit. So how do we facilitate long-term loyalty within teams?

Finding your Tribe

In tech, we do this by attending conferences and typically by wearing t-shirts that indicate where we find our senses of esteem and belonging.


Traditionally, retrospectives are blame games, but by starting off retrospectives on a positive note and building upon strengths, we can reinforce positive behavior and create a virtuous cycle.

Deep Practice

"A novice will practice something until he gets it right. An expert will practice until he can't get it wrong." Iterating and improving not only creates motivation but also a sense of loyalty to a team that refuses to falter in the long-term.

Setting SMART Goals

I've talked about SMART goals before. Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals and backward-planning to the initial starting point - now - perpetuates the virtuous cycle of continuous growth.

By establishing these baseline measures, an organization can create systems to keep team members engaged in the bigger picture around their work and build loyalty that is typically not found among software engineers. Findings show that the average duration of employment for a developer at a company is 18 months. Incidentally, I found the same results when I analyzed conference registration data in AIESEC for employees in the non-profit space.

As an organization scales, it may take time to find the right people to do The Work, and full-time employees may be asked to do a "little bit extra." These tasks could range from helping to organize conferences to interviewing new candidates to assisting with administrative minutiae for the benefit of the team. These "dead duck" tasks stem from, in my opinion:

  1. a need to prioritize the most important tasks or
  2. a need to align tasks with employees' skills and goals

Assuming that an organization has trouble prioritizing its most critical tasks and each task has a due date, set of project checkpoints and predictable procedure, it seems intuitive that a Kanban-style can help to guide team members which tasks are the most pressing. Just like project managers, teams can re-evaluate priorities regularly - either after finishing large tasks or at regular intervals.

If an organization finds it advantageous to align employees' goals and skills with its to do list, a skill-will matrix is a tool that I used in AIESEC as a coach to assist with task allocation for various teams. For example, a well-trained salesperson who has several years of experience may not want to make cold calls, but they would serve as an excellent mentor to new recruits. On the opposite end of the matrix, the eager newcomer will be low on the measure of skill, but their desire to learn and grow would be high. Generalizing this to an already-established team that is short on time, a facilitator can encourage team members to:

  1. List tasks that need to be done adjacent to their respective timelines/due dates. In doing this, each task is weighted equally in terms of its importance, the value it adds to the organization, and its relation to the organization's values.
  2. Have team members go through the list privately and rank, on a Likert scale from 1-5, their ability to perform the task and their desire to perform the task. By doing this independently, it contributes to a space of non-judgment and non-coercion.
  3. Request that team members save their lists and as sign-ups for organizational tasks external to core job descriptions roll out, you might find that after some reflection, employees create their own internal sense of alignment with the goals of the organization.

I think it is key to marry soft processes - motivating employees to sign up for extracurricular tasks - with a quantitative means of analysis. By creating a space - and we see this with conferences, planning meetings, retrospectives, and independent practice - leaders can further the notion that employee personal and professional goals should and can line up with the "dead duck" tasks that are necessary in order to keep an organization running.

Published September 22, 2016