Uneven work distribution between team members is a common complaint. It’s also causing people to leave organizations and look for other opportunities. In this post, we’ll try to understand what’s driving this feeling and how we can change it.
It’s rare to be a part of a group without hearing people complaining about the load of work. Some people will complain that they have too much work while others resting, others will complain that they are getting mundane, boring work, while others getting all the interesting work. The bottom line, it’s rare to find people happy with the distribution of work in their groups.
It is important to understand that work is distributed to reach common goals. Most of the time, those goals are services or products that a group will provide to its customers. The customer of service cares less about who is doing what within a group. The customer cares about the quality of the service or product and the time he had to wait to get results from the providing group. From a customer perspective, there is just one group. From people that are part of the group, the group is several autonomous and diverse people.
One of the main reasons that contribute to the perception of uneven distribute of work is the organization system that encourages people to be an individualist and focus on themselves. A service that a group provides is actually many tasks provided by different people with different expertise. Some people’s tasks will be more demanding than other tasks. As long as the group is providing the same services, some people will get harder and longer tasks while others will get shorter and easier tasks. It’s all based on the skillet and abilities of each individual.
When the focus is on individuals, people will compare themselves to others. This compression is a property of any social system that incentives individual performance. The paradox is that the group is judged by their performance as one group. The point that I’m trying to make is that there should be more balance between individualism and group incentives.
Individualism pushed people to be focused on what they are doing. They will compare it to what others are doing, but they are missing the understanding of the group as a system. They are missing the tasks and dependencies required to finish the service or product. It’s true that one individual will work X10 times more than others, but it’s also true that without someone else effort that might take several minutes the service won’t be able to be provided. The bottom line is the product. Without it, none of the group members will be compensated.
There are two repositories of information that can help teams. One is all the interactions and dataflows between team members needed to produce the product or provide the service. The other one is the accountabilities and skillets each role needs to perform. Those repositories create more visibility and understanding, they are also enabled people to get more work or people to ask for help based on people skillets.
Another information that will decrease the perception is people’s personalities and mental models. Many people will complain about the amount of work that they are doing, but they need to feel that they are doing more than others. If you’ll take work from them and give it to others, you will make them miserable. Other people have mental models that prevent them from doing work for many reasons. Understanding what prevents them from taking more work and helping them to overcome personal obstacles will push them to take more work.
In a nutshell, we’ll never reach optimal and equal distribution of work because people have different skillsets that require a different amount of time to perform them. Understanding of the system (as a whole) and enabling people to help when people that need help want it will change the perception. As we all know, perception is a reality, so changing perception is a big step forward.