Stretching Time Through Community

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November 06, 2017

Stretching Time Through Community

By Tom Dente

President and CEO Humentum

The fall is a busy time in our community, with many of us starting fiscal years, planning for the end of the calendar year, and anticipating the holiday season. In these busy days, time becomes the scarce resource we manage for value. In our operations community, where we strive to deliver the best results for our multiple constituencies, we are often under the real constraints of teams’ and individuals’ available time. We are always looking to better manage the return on investment of time, given the complexity of the work we lead and our growing demands.

For example, as a smaller organization, Humentum is often faced with the challenge of having the same staff members who are addressing day-to-day responsibilities also being involved in multiple internal teams. As we grapple with prioritization and human resource allocation, a recent article from the Harvard Business Review caught my eye, as it examined this problem from the perspective of global organizations. Entitled The Overcommitted Organization, by Mark Mortensen and Heidi Gardner, the article reviews the situation that the authors call “multiteaming.”

They define multiteaming as having the same people assigned to multiple projects simultaneously and note that this approach has become a widespread organizational practice, especially among the organizations they surveyed in their research. They note how multiteaming offers both efficiency in leveraging scarce expertise while also facilitating new pathways to spread organizational best practices and knowledge.    

But with these benefits there are also costs. Mortensen and Gardner observe that with multiteaming, not only can individual stress grow, but project risks may also increase as a crisis on one team may affect another, as many staff are essentially working in a large system of interconnected teams. Other concerns include navigating the draws upon team members as needs peak at the same time as well as losing the intangibles of high-performing individual team cultures as stretched team members multi-task across different efforts.

Can increasing productive individual time offer a way out? Perhaps, but this too has become more challenging. In their book Time Talent Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton assess this issue. They begin by noting that “the truly scarce resources are the time, talent, and energy of their people, and the ideas those people generate and implement.” In addition, the authors draw a parallel from how commercial organizations historically mismanaged money, writing, “Just as some companies once wasted financial capital through a host of misguided or myopic moves, many of today’s enterprises squander their precious time, talent, and energy, most often unintentionally.” Mismanaging human resources can result in organizational drag, which the book defines as the loss of capacity arising from when “employees find themselves wasting time on needless internal interactions, unproductive or inconsequential meetings, and unnecessary e-communications.” Mankins and Garton estimate that the “average company loses more than 20 percent of its productive power to organizational drag.”    

Aided by ever-evolving technologies, we all know how easy it is to misuse time. In often global roles, operations professionals in our community often find themselves multiteaming and combating organizational drag even as their individual priorities increase. What can be done?

One approach may be a regular “time audit” that could be provide insights. Showing where and how time is spent could be revealing. Key questions to ask include: Where can my organization or project reduce unproductive or unnecessary meetings and emails (or other e-communications)?  How can I better manage my teams and meetings to free up time for more sharing of knowledge, practices and information? Or, with the expanding flood of information, how can I manage my own learning and development time? Recent Humentum Annual Conference sessions ranging from Survival Tips for Email Overload to Meetings That Add Value have explored these topics with practical and insightful approaches and tips.  

Finally, addressing time demands alone may not be enough. Effectively leveraging the power of community can support multiteaming and help address organizational drag. Using an expert community like Humentum increases our ‘return on time’ with access to resources, expertise, and learning shared across organizations. This new value can enhance individual and team-based work to achieve greater benefits with limited time. With our new capabilities as Humentum, we are exploring additional ways to support individuals and organizations with more just-in-time offerings, be that in an online community of practice, topical sessions, peer networks, or in more on-demand learning.   

We welcome your ideas on additional approaches we can take to increase the value of our vibrant community. Thank you for your many contributions that add to our shared expertise and allow us to stretch our scarce time!

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