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.