A lot of work involves other people, and more specifically depends on other people doing something. Decision-making with a group of people can be frustrating, it takes time and you can end up feeling like everything would be much easier if you were doing this alone. However teams don’t work that way and successful changes generally only come about when everyone involved feels like they contributed to the decision.

Maintaining momentum is one of the easiest ways to keep people engaged in the process. Context switching is hard; it takes time, and it takes energy. You can help people to stay engaged in your project by avoiding the long delays between context switching. It is much easier to compete a task with a small amount of work, often, rather than a large chunk of work, followed by a slump, and then another large chunk of work. Even without the challenges of scheduling in large chunks of work the later approach is painful because of the energy needed to re-start on the task after the gap.

That doesn’t mean hassling them (too much!), but instead focus your efforts on keeping things moving at a steady pace so that the rest of the group doesn’t need to expend a huge amount of energy to re-engage with the project.

Here are three easy ways to keep things moving:

1) Share documents with the correct sharing settings
How many times have you turned to a task only to discover that the document you’re meant to be editing or commenting on has been shared with ‘view only’ settings? Now think about how long it took you to get the correct settings, if you ever did, and the impact the delay had on your responsiveness. I’d bet that not having the correct settings on the document meant you left it until later to complete, maybe you never got around to completing it.

2) Respond to questions quickly
When you’re working with others on a task it’s normal to expect some clarifying questions. They might be wondering if they have the right document, or double-checking they understand what you need them to do. Delaying your response is a sure way to kill their engagement.

Recently I was working on a group presentation and asked a quick clarifying question to the organiser. It took two days to get a response. Two days. In those two days I’d become involved in another, better defined task. I eventually returned to the presentation but not until another day later. The delay in getting my clarifying answer ended up being the time to get an answer plus some additional time due to a perceived lack of interest from the organiser. Respond quickly. Show that you care about the task.

3) Be clear about what you’re expecting people to do
Ever had a document shared with you without comment? Did you do anything with it? Even the most dedicated team player will struggle with uncertainty. If you need someone to do something then ask them. If you’ve asked them face to face and are sharing the document at a later date drop in a note to clarify that this is the document you were asking them to complete. Don’t assume that the other person understands or remembers everything you’ve said.

What tips do you have for maintaining momentum in your teams?

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