Leadership Tactic #63: Group Grunt Work

A few weeks ago, I organized an invitation stuffing party at work. “Party” is a somewhat deceptive word, as it’s actually a finely tuned assembly line of volunteers doing mindless work and chatting while doing so. My goal every year is to stuff the 4,000 invitations faster than the previous year.

This year we crushed the previous record and finished in about 3 hours spread over two days. I learned a few things that apply to this sort of group grunt work (and probably to a lot of other facets of business as well):

  1. Check Your Work: We had everything ready to do the entire envelope stuffing in a single day, and then we realized that we had made a mistake when sending the spreadsheet of everyone’s addresses to printer: The names didn’t match the addresses. It was a solvable problem that we fixed within two days, but it was a great reminder that spot checking can save so much time in the long run.
  2. Small Components: I took a few ideas from Henry Ford and created an assembly line in which each person did the same task hundreds of times. Sure, there’s not much variety, but some jobs are done much smoother and faster when you break them down into manageable components.
  3. The Progress Principle: As researched and written about by Teresa Amabile, “The single most important thing business leaders can do to improve morale is help employees feel they are making progress at work.” I tried to make sure that the volunteers always had a stack of envelopes or cards to work with and that they weren’t sitting around waiting for more materials. One guy was always finishing his stack right before I refilled it, and he had a momentary morale boost because he had finished a small accomplishment in the wake of an overwhelming goal. I then promptly crushed his morale by adding more envelopes to his stack.
  4. A Clear Goal: At previous envelope stuffing parties, this thing always happens where we think we’re completely finished, and then someone uncovers one more box of envelopes and cards. There is very little more crushing than to think that you’ve finished a job, and all of a sudden you realize there’s more. So this year I made sure all of the materials were out in the open from the very beginning. With 4,000 invitations, that’s a lot of materials. But it presented a very clear picture of the goal, and as we stuffed, we gained a clear example of how much we’d accomplished and how much further we had to go.
Anything you’d add?

2 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #63: Group Grunt Work”

  1. Food as a reward does wonders.

    Also, I always try to quantify how long it would have taken JUST me to do the task, and how much the organization would’ve then spent to pay someone to do it, so as to prove the volunteers’ impact. I think it helps them feel more valuable whilst doing a job a monkey could technically do.

    • Emma–Great points. I definitely always provide food, and I try to tell people how much time they saved me. I try to appreciate them as sincerely and quantitatively as possible.


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