Allocating work to team members

Allocating work to team members
Allocating work to team members
How can you get the best fit between tasks and team members?
On what basis should tasks be allocated?
Involving teams in decisions about allocating tasks makes teams more
effective and better motivated.
One of the major responsibilities of team leaders is to allocate tasks to
members of the team. This means making decisions about who should
do what. In making these decisions an effective team leader has to
make judgements about:
the set of tasks that has to be completed (which may be one
task or it may be several) and
the set of individuals (the team members) able to complete
The team leader’s goal is to find the best fit between the two. Best fit
means finding the combination of people and tasks that will produce
the desired results. In this session we will look at what you should
take account of in deciding how to match people to tasks. We will also
consider how you should involve the team in the process, to get the
best result.
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Allocating work to team members
Assessing the tasks
When you are allocating work to team members you will often have a
set of tasks. A set of tasks may mean that there is just one (it’s possible to have a set of one), but usually you will several tasks that need to
be completed. However many there are, you should start by asking
some key questions about each task:
What actually needs doing?
When does it need to be done by?
How and where does it need to be done (what tools or equipment does it need, or specific locations, such as a particular
part of a workshop where tools are located)?
Who can do it (what kind of skills and knowledge, or competence certificate, are required)?
You can remember this as What?, When?, How?, Where? and Who?, but
not Why? This is because you should have questioned the ‘Why?’ (if
you think it needed asking) before you start allocating tasks to team
Case Study
Jake leads a shelf-stacking team in a city-centre supermarket. Their
job is to ensure that the shelves are kept full. This is because customers will only buy what they can see on the shelves, and also because
they have very little storage room. Items have to be kept moving from
store to shelves to provide space for new stock to be delivered.
Jake has a delivery of tinned and packaged produce coming in soon
so he needs the space in the general storage area to be cleared. However, the chiller cabinet needs restocking with ready-to-eat meals urgently, as does the fresh fruit display, especially the apples and pears.
Jake has identified four main tasks:
restock the chiller cabinet
restock the apples and pears
check the tinned fruit and vegetable display and restock as
many as possible
check the breakfast cereal display and restock as many as possible
(Continued on page 3)
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Allocating work to team members
This is the ‘What?’. Jake now decides that this must be done by 10.00
(it is now 9.00), which is the ‘When?’ and clearly it involves team
members working in the storage area and then in the various parts of
the store where these goods are displayed. Anyone working with
chilled food needs to wear jackets and gloves, to go into the chiller
store and to load the chiller cabinets. It also needs two people, for
health and safety reasons. There are also special trolleys for chilled
and frozen food, and also for the fruit and vegetables.
Assessing the people
In the session Team-working skills, there is an example of a skills matrix. This is a simple table showing which members of the team have
which skills. You don’t need to use a skills matrix if the team all have
very similar skills or the work involves very few different skills. What’s
more, if you know your team well you may have the skills matrix in
your head. However, whether it’s written down or in your head, it’s a
useful way of thinking about:
What people can currently do well.
What they are learning to do.
What they need to learn to do but haven't yet started to learn.
What they can’t do and don’t need to learn to do.
This will tell you who is available to do each task. It seems sensible to
always use the best person for the task. However, that means that the
same people will always do that task, and so become better at it,
whilst other people will never learn. It also means that people may get
bored doing the same thing all the time, and may be resentful that the
same people always do the most interesting work.
One of the benefits of having a team is that they should be able to
substitute for each other. This is possible if they are multi-skilled.
Multi-skilled simply means that each person can do a wide range of
different tasks. Having a multi-skilled team gives you flexibility. Flexibility means that you have choices when it comes to allocating tasks.
So, when you are looking at tasks, start by asking:
Who can currently do this?
Who is learning (or needs to learn) how to do this?
Who did this last time?
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Allocating work to team members
You should also look at whether or not any of the tasks can be combined together into fewer, larger or more complicated tasks. This may
make them more interesting. Interesting work makes people better
motivated and they work harder and more carefully. Simple, repetitive
tasks are boring and people lose interest. That’s when they make mistakes.
When you are making judgements about how to allocate work you
need to consider all these issues. By sharing jobs round you allow people to develop a range of skills, balance interesting with boring or unpleasant tasks. By combining tasks you can make them more interesting and stretching for people, motivating them and helping to reduce
mistakes. By pairing people up you enable the experienced people to
pass on their knowledge and skills to the inexperienced. This is what
Jake has to think of.
Case Study
Two of Jake’s team are new, and he wants them to be supervised, so
he decides it makes sense for one of them to help with the chilled
food and the other to help with the fruit. That means pairing them
with one of the more experienced team members. He knows that
Gillian knows a lot about the fruit and vegetable section, so he asks
her to work with one of the new team members to do that. He also
knows that Penny would like to get a job working in the training department, so he asks her to show the other new team member how
chilled and frozen foods are handled. He particularly asks her to tell
him about the health and safety rules.
That leaves three team members plus Jake himself. He tells them that
they will work in pairs to restock the other two lines, but also he’d
like to make sure that there is plenty of room for the new delivery
when it arrives. He asks them to look at how they can move some of
the other stock to make room for it, whilst they are selecting stock
for the shelves. Normally he would have got two of them to do that,
while the other two filled shelves, but he thinks that this will be a
more effective way of doing the work. It will also make the tasks more
challenging and interesting.
A lot of work is boring or monotonous, and there’s nothing you can do
to change that. But if you can find ways of making your team’s work as
interesting as possible and use tasks to help develop their ability, you
will have a more efficient and more effective team.
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Allocating work to team members
Reviewing your own performance
Allocating work to your team is a very important part of your job. How
can you tell whether or not you are doing it well? Here are five questions you can ask yourself about the decisions you make in allocating
How well were the tasks done? Did people complete the
tasks to the standard that the organisation sets and which customers require?
Was the work done efficiently? Efficiently is about using resources well to keep costs as low as possible. Was there unnecessary waste or were too many people used to complete
the task?
Was the work done on time? If the work was done slowly but
well, you may have achieved the right quality but at too high a
Was the work done safely? Safety is not just about whether
or not there are any accidents, but also about near misses.
Near misses are accidents that nearly happened.
Were the team motivated to do the work well? Were people
happy with the decisions you made and did they get on and do
the work well?
These five questions are a useful way of reviewing how well you allocate work to your team. The final question is the most important and
hardest to answer. You need to be aware of how your team feel and
whether or not they are motivated well. You will only be able to do this
if you talk to the team and listen to their comments. You also need to
be able to observe them and learn what they are feeling from their behaviour. There is more about this in the session Communicating with
your team.
Involving your team
One way of motivating your team is to involve them in decisions, such
as how work is allocated. Involving your team in decision-making is
one way of developing a high-performing team. A high-performing
team is one which consistently meets its targets, and looks for ways of
raising them.
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Allocating work to team members
Involving your team doesn’t change the way that decisions are made.
You should still be looking at the tasks (What?, When? Where? How?
and Who?) and at the team’s members (their skills, their development
and the way they work). However, team decision-making means that
the team use these questions to help them agree how best to allocate
An effective team leader is not someone who makes decisions well. Effective team leaders are people who create teams that are able to
make collective decisions well. By involving your team in decisions, by
explaining how to arrive at the best decision, you will increase their
motivation and enthusiasm, and draw on all their experience to arrive
at the best decisions.
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Allocating work to team members
Comprehension Check
Complete the following exercises. Refer back to the session if necessary.
A. What are the two aspects of allocating tasks that have to be
matched together to get a best fit?
B. What are the five ‘question words’ that you should use to assess the task, when allocating tasks to team members?
C. What three questions should you ask yourself about the members of your team when you are allocating tasks?
D. What five questions should you ask yourself when you review
how well you allocated tasks?
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Allocating work to team members
Making Connections
Answer the questions following the case.
Allana is the team leader in a family restaurant. Her team are working
the evening shift today. That means that they arrive at 4.00pm and
work through until about midnight. They can expect to have families
with young children arriving from about five o’clock and then families
with older children and couples arriving from about 7.30.
When the team arrive they have to get the tables ready for new guests,
check the salad bar, restock the bar and generally clear up after lunchtime. Although much of this should be done by the early shift, they
may not have done it all if they have been busy.
Allana checks with the other team leader and learns that they had a
big birthday party in and have hardly had time to clear their tables, let
alone get ready for the evening. Allana looks around and sees that the
salad bar is almost empty, so she tells three team members to restock
it. She tells the rest to start cleaning the restaurant as the floor is
pretty dirty. When they all get started she notices that the menus are
also covered in sticky marks so takes them into the kitchen to start
wiping them. While she’s there the chef tells her that he has had no
delivery of pizzas that day but that he does have a beef and ale pie
which isn’t on the menu. This should go on the blackboard. Allana
goes and writes that up before she forgets. She finds the team all
gathered round looking at pictures of one team members’ new baby
How could Allana improve her approach to allocating tasks?
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Allocating work to team members
Think and Apply
How well do you use the skills in this session?
Do you ensure that you get a best fit between the tasks and
the people available to do them?
Do you review how well you allocated tasks to your team, to
check your performance?
Do you involve the team in decisions about allocating tasks?
1. Read the list of skills. Tick the boxes to show your strengths and
strengths <- - - -> weaknesses
at this
I’m not
so good
good at
poor at
at this
getting the best fit between tasks
and the team
assessing the tasks that need doing
identifying who should undertake
reviewing your performance in
allocating tasks
involving your team in allocating
2. Do you want to improve any of these skills?
3. How do you plan to improve the skills you listed in question 2?
(You might want to discuss this with your line manager or your tutor/mentor/coach.)
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