The best teams are highly motivated to perform. They show engagement, professionalism, and dedication. When unrealistic goals and impossible demands are placed on your team, their active engagement leads to rising levels of stress. If you notice your productivity and efficiency levels beginning to drop, this is a sign of burnout sneaking up on your team.

Finding and attracting highly committed and engaged individuals for your team is a constant business struggle. Introducing these individuals to your internal processes and the ins and outs of your business also takes time and effort. Letting your team burn out would be a huge waste and it increases the risk of losing your most motivated and hardworking people. In this article, we’ll look at what causes burnout in a team and what steps you can take to prevent it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of chronic stress. It doesn’t appear suddenly – everyone experiences stressful days from time to time, and these alone won’t cause burnout in your team. Burnout symptoms start to appear after prolonged periods of too much workload and elevated stress levels.

As a manager, you will start to see your normally engaged team become disaffected and detached. Productivity declines, targets are missed, usually enthusiastic team members become apathetic and appear hopeless.

Burnout not only affects your team members’ physical and emotional health, but it can also have a profound effect on your business. Elevated stress levels are disastrous to the human immune system.

The bottom line is that if you have tired and unhappy employees, your business will suffer. That’s why you need to improve your processes, create a better-managed environment for your team, and your business will flourish in turn.

The root causes of burnout

The main causes of burnout are unrealistic deadlines and uneven workload distribution. As the capacity of your team is relatively stable, burnout can be traced back to excessive demand. If your process is not efficient, your team will start getting demotivated about what they do.

Unsatisfied people are even more prone to burnout as they constantly feel tired of the meaningless activities they have to deal with every day. Wasteful tasks eat into the time and effort that could be spent on tasks that bring value to your business. The workload on your team is artificially inflated by waste – in Lean Management terms these are known as Mura (Unevenness), Muri (Overburden) and the 7 Mudas (Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overprocessing, Overproduction and Defects).

Is there a silver bullet?

In order to prevent burnout, you have to manage your team workload more effectively. The goals for your team should be set according to their capacity. Look at SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Relevant, Tangible) goal-setting practices, consistently achieving ambitious yet realistic goals keeps morale and engagement high.

Even in an Agile environment, customer and market pressure can lead to situations where capacity is severely exceeded regularly. The easiest and most flexible approach to handle these situations is using the Kanban Method. Your team will only pull tasks into their workflow when their capacity allows it. Visualizing your workflow, limiting work in progress, and accurately measuring your results are key components of the method that help you protect your team from burnout.

Visualize your workflow

Visualize your process on a Kanban board. Add all steps of your workflow, create your tasks, and assign the people responsible for their execution. In this format, your team workload is clear and transparent, and bottlenecks are visible at a glance. In order to improve your workload, you have to be able to see and analyze it.

Limit WIP

This is the crucial component in preventing burnout. Limit the amount of work that is allowed to be in progress at a time – do not start more tasks if the old work has not been completed, no matter how pressing the deadline or demanding the customer. Setup WIP limits suitable for your team. They should be high enough to keep each team member occupied but low enough that no task is left idle.

What should you and your team do when the WIP limit is hit? Here are a few things to think about – is there any work that is not finished? Work on it. If there isn’t (which is unlikely) do not start new work unless you absolutely can’t avoid it. It will make all other work slower, riskier, and more difficult. Take a break and have a chat with your teammates.

Deal with emergencies

In any process, emergencies must be handled. However, it is far too easy to start treating the majority of tasks as emergencies, flooding your team with urgent demands. Set explicit rules and pull policies for expedite items including how many can be in progress at any time – we recommend a maximum of one.

Keep track of your WIP

Use the Cumulative Flow Diagram to measure the amount of work in progress in each state of your process. Strive to keep the work in progress within the limits for each state. Scan your dashboards for the patterns that indicate problems. Don’t let issues escalate – analyze the root causes and take measures immediately.

Always create value

Finding and eliminating sources of waste in your process will improve team engagement and motivation. It will increase the efficiency of your process and bring more value to your business. Consider mapping your value stream to find wasteful areas and brainstorming possible solutions.

Burnout is a huge problem nowadays for both people and businesses. Watch out for burnout symptoms and take action immediately. Manage workflows back to reasonable levels and rediscover your team’s drive and morale. Teams committed to value and high quality can achieve exquisite success in a healthy environment. Don’t let your team burn out!

Have you or your team suffered from burnout? What was the cause behind it? How did you get back on track? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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