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Maslow at Work: Team Productivity

Originally published on February 17, 2017

Credit: This post derives from an associated topic presented by Margo Brown in “The Secrets of Being Powerfully Productive” (2017).

For those who have taken a basic-level course in psychology, you may remember the work of Abraham Maslow and his Theory of Human Motivation. Perhaps the most recognizable component of this 1943 paper is the pyramid known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As Margo Brown’s presentation applies the hierarchy to personal productivity, I see it as being likewise applicable to team dynamics and management. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy supposes that human progression–in both a physical and psychosocial sense–requires the individual to fulfill foundational needs before being empowered to achieve higher levels of physical and cognitive fulfillment. Maslow’s Hierarchy is depicted in the illustration below:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy to productivity finds the five steps of the pyramid morphing from a focus on individual well-being and fulfillment to one of successful completion of fundamental requirements to enable career or professional progression:

Maslow’s Hierarchy adapted for productivity enablement.

(Adapted from Brown, 2017)

When viewed from the perspective of professional teams or small businesses, each step provides important foundations that enable the next step. While progress toward goal achievement is represented by upward mobility on the hierarchy, it is also possible to fall back down when unforeseen circumstances interrupt planned progression. But let’s examine how each of these steps translates to professional teams and small businesses.

Physical Organization

The primary stage of improving productivity as a team or small business is physical organization. This actually means three distinct–yet interrelated–areas of organizing. First, each individual on the team needs to have an organization regimen that works for them, which can vary between both individuals and industries. From the desk to the file cabinet to the inbox, it is important for each individual to be able to locate materials and accomplish tasks for the team in a timely and orderly manner. Second, the workspace must be organized in such a way that co-workers have access to the people with whom they must collaborate and/or coordinate on work projects. Third, the company workday must be amenable to workers being present at the same time–or having a communications regimen established to bridge the gap–to enable organized and timely flow of work products.

Personal Organization. One idea on personal organization is the “GTD” model suggested by David Allen. This not only provides basic physical organization skills but also sets an early stage for integrating electronic organization and time management. 


  • Capture everything you need to track, remember, or act upon in “buckets” and off your mind.

  • Reduce “open loops.”

  • Have as few buckets as possible.

  • “Buckets” can be appointment books, computer programs, online accounts, smartphones, etc.


  • FIFO: First in, first out.

  • Deal with one item at a time — Prioritize!

  • Never put anything “back in.”

  • DO IT if the task takes less than 2 minutes.

  • DELEGATE IT – establish a “waiting for” list.

  • DEFER IT – next actions list, calendar, project plan, etc.

  • Three options for things not actionable:

    • File it for reference.

    • Throw it away (or shred as necessary).

    • Incubate (develop for potential later action).


  • Next Actions – the ASAP things.

  • Projects – things with two or more major steps.

  • Waiting for – someone else must take action first.

  • Someday/Maybe – Not important; vague; unrelated.

  • Context – identify methods by which actions will be taken.

  • Organization tools:

    • Calendar – time and date sensitive, separate from action lists.

    • Read/Review Folder – documents required for action list items.

    • Tickler File – chronologically ordered reminder file.


  • Review the task list daily.

  • Prioritize based on importance, not difficulty.

  • Review outstanding actions, projects, and “waiting for” lists.

  • Empty collection buckets often!

  • Keep it simple, Habitual, clear & concise, moving forward…

Company Organization. The way that you organize your company can have a direct influence on how productive your employees–and management–are able to become. In fact, a great deal of thought must go into how the company’s employees are arranged in the facility, as well as the commonality of tools and the need for specialty equipment. In a business environment where the norm has shifted from vertical systems based on lines of authority to horizontal systems where collaboration is the philosophy that is becoming the emerging norm, the need for balance between leadership access and collaborative ease is essential.

Every company is different; however, there are some common techniques to be able to optimize your organization. 

  • Departments or people (depending on company size) should have easy access to each other for projects or processes on which they collaborate.

  • Leaders of different departments should meet together regularly to coordinate common goals to achieve the company’s vision, as well as have an understanding of the various components’ resources and capabilities.

  • Organization of consumable resources; that is, ensuring that new purchases are coordinated instead of in parallel, everyone who needs the resources has access, and resources stay ahead of requirements to avoid work accomplishment latency.

  • Leading by example such that every employee understands that they are a valued asset to the company as well as a valued human being. As Sir Richard Branson stated, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Electronic Organization

We are in the technology age–regardless of your industry or business. As a result, more and more people are expecting remote access to their work files and resources–or migrating to systems that synchronize devices to provide continuity between local and remote assets. There are numerous tools that are available to help solve this electronic organization challenge, including computers, tablets, smartphones, and remote networking systems.

Applications, applications, applications… We all have applications that we like because they mesh well with our personalities and interests. In the workplace, there are many different applications that may be leveraged to accomplish the same–or similar–tasks. It is vital to workplace productivity–especially in a collaborative environment–to have standardized applications across the company, except those specific processes that require specialized, limited access applications. As vital as standardized applications are, it is equally important to ensure that the company’s IT department is brought in at the start of any considerations regarding new, changed, or upgraded applications to ensure that the plan is complementary to the company’s systems.

A great tool to synchronize your organization between stationary and mobile platforms is Microsoft’s OneNote, which comes as part of the Microsoft Office 365 package as well as being a free application for mobile devices. By establishing a free Microsoft account you can ensure that your OneNote application stays synchronized between all your devices. Since many offices are moving to the cloud-based Office 365 subscription service, using OneNote as a synchronized document, to-do list and directory tool lets you have the same information on the go as at your desk. Likewise, using the free Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel applications allows employees to stay up to date, manage emails and their calendar, and create/edit documents on the go and synchronize them with all other devices.

Time Management

Time management is as important to a business as it is to an individual. In some ways, the aggregate effect of ineffective time utilization by individual employees can affect a company more than the effect on each individual. In this sense, time management is a strategic process for purposefully allocating or reallocating finite resources and time to address and achieve goal-centric activities. Don’t let the word strategic scare you into thinking that this is the sole purview of the C-level leadership; it is something that should be–must be–important at all levels of the organization.

But what steps can an organization take in order to manage the finite resource called time? Five areas for consideration and action provide the structure that leads executives, managers, and individual employees to a greater understanding of managing time.

Defining Goals:

Having long-term goals that are tied to an organization’s vision provides essential stepping stones that enable time to be parsed into more easily managed scope. 

  • Set up a time management process. What manner of time management–and what granularity–work best for your organization? This must be defined and understood.

  • Describe the vision. Long-term goals–supported by short-term objectives–must all align with the organization’s vision. What is the vision? Does everyone in the organization know and understand it and what they are working toward?

  • Identify setbacks. If you have done a process in the past, what were the problem areas that cost you time? What can you do to mitigate or avoid them now?

  • Goals and objectives. Every employee should understand how each thread follows from the organization’s vision, through long-term goals and short-term tasks, to the individual tasks that support attaining the vision. If they are on a highway but don’t know the destination or when they are expected to reach it, you have a recipe for time mismanagement.

What exactly is time?

Simply put, time is energy.In order to ensure that precious limited resources are not being wasted, informed and conscious choices about using time–energy–in the most effective ways must be determined, executed, and monitored.

  • How is energy spent now? Simple things like taking the time to have every employee keep a time log for a week or so can tell a lot about how time energy is allocated, reallocated, and spent. It also can identify similar parallel processes that can be combined to save paying for the same outcome at the same time twice.

  • Analyze tasks. How critical are tasks that are being accomplished? Do they support reaching the vision of the organization? Goals? Objectives? If not, are they critical to do–and if so, why?

  • An energy cost-benefit analysis. Does the amount of time energy spent on tasks justify the investment? this is a simple ROI analysis pitting employee(s) time investment versus the value of the outcome toward achieving the vision.

Analyzing the SWOT:

Understanding the benefits and detriments to any process is important because they all can use up time. You will want to make a SWOT analysis of the organization and its capabilities.

  • Strengths. What is/are your strongest, most effective processes?

  • Weaknesses. What processes are the least productive and/or non-critical time users?

  • Opportunities. What potential changes could allow for higher efficiency and less waste? How can you exploit the opportunities?

  • Threats. What are the potential roadblocks that could adversely affect the use of your organization’s time energy? Controllable?

Your Toolbox:

Workplace dynamics often directly impact effective time utilization–this is especially true in organizations that control by fear or other negative methods. Your toolbox must include strategies by which you can mitigate or eliminate these negative influences.

  • Yes is not always the right answer. Learn to negotiate–examining both sides of the equations often leads to a more effective solution.

  • Delegate, delegate, delegate! It is human nature to think that we can take on more than we really can (I know because I do it all the time). When a manager or leader does this, it adversely affects the team and, eventually, the organization. Again, learn to negotiate and delegate tasks to the right people, even the load, and press forward.

  • Metrics. Unfortunately, metrics are not enough! In order for metrics to be valid and reliable, you must assign standards within the metrics that define whether or not you are operating at the level required to use time efficiently.

Create an Action Plan:

The plan is simple–review the vision, the goals and objectives to get you there, and prioritize the tasks that support the journey. OK, maybe not so simple in reality, but the visual is pretty easy.

  • Priorities. Assess priorities and align them with concurrent, parallel, or complementary tasks, objectives, and goals.

  • The process. How are you going to tie everything together, from criteria, to issues and causes, to analysis, to solutions?

Activity – Goal Alignment

This area is much like the alignment of priorities but on a strategic level. In other words, conducting a bottom-up analysis of tasks, objectives, and goals to determine if a consistent thread of alignment draws through each of them and support the vision of the organization. An antithesis to the development of the tasks in a top-down process, this bottom-up analysis is a check on the model’s construct. Until this strategic alignment is accomplished, extrapolating and expanding beyond the enabling phase is not possible.


Think of this state of being as self-actualization on an organizational level. This is where the greatest efficiency occurs within organizations. At this level is where creativity outside the lines occurs, as well as enhanced problem-solving, and an atmosphere of mutual acceptance among employees and objective analysis of facts with acceptance of the outcomes even if it does not match the initial thesis.

This is where all things are possible because organizational fragmentation is displaced with organizational synthesis and interrelationships that optimize resources–including time, consumables, and humans. This represents the pinnacle of organizations efficiency; however, it is a pinnacle that is rarely retained and must be re-achieved as the organizational goals and environment change–whether from internal or external influences. In some ways, it is like landing on the game board square that says go back two spaces


Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for human beings, an organization must also build upon successes in order to achieve readiness to accede to the next level. Much like the internal and external influences that can change our perceptive and cognitive responses to our environment as humans, organizations also undergo changes based on internal and external stimuli and changes–some of which may cause the organization to slide back down the pyramid to an earlier stage of fulfillment. Some things that may cause this are interpersonal conflict in the organization, downsizing and individuals who feel the need to place personal goals ahead of those of the collective, market changes, regulatory changes, and others.

Productivity is a living thing–it takes grooming, care, nurturing, and discipline. It takes leadership that is in tune–visible yet transparent–to the rank and file employees, a sense of belonging and importance to the organization, and continual reinforcement of mission and vision.

Are you interested in learning more about organizational productivity? At Dynamic Worldwide Training Consultants, I teach a one-day interactive course on Managerial Leadership and facilitate a half-day seminar on Executive Leadership. Check them out at or call 866.399.8287 to schedule an onsite course or seminar for your organization today!


Allen, D. (2015). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity.London, UK: Penguin Books.

Brown, M. (2017). The secrets of being powerfully productive. Professional development presentation, February 15, 2017. Acceler8. Tempe, AZ.



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