Asian Efficiency started in 2011 and lot has changed within the company since then—from the people, products, and processes. A lot of things also remained consistent: our mission is to make the world a more productive place, we give away 95% of our content for free, we have a team of productivity experts with different backgrounds, and we’re still a remote team with flexible schedules and unlimited paid leaves.
Through the years, we have adapted methodologies and processes that make us work well as a team and get things done efficiently. We often get asked how their teams can be as effective and efficient as ours so now we’re going to give it all away. In this blog post, we’re going to share with you the secret ingredients to our team’s productivity. These are not exclusive to remote teams. If you work in an office setting, you can definitely tailor-fit these tips and ideas.
10 Tips to Make Your Team as Productive as the AE Team (in no particular order)
1. Invest in good hardware
It’s no secret that the AE team is made up of Apple fanboys and fangirls. Everyone on the team has a MacBook to work on. We rarely have issues with computers not booting up or the OS crashing. The hardware we use enabled us to work with ease and we don’t stress about hardware issues.
I got my first MacBook last 2013 and it’s still working great! At the same time that I got my MacBook, my partner got his Windows Laptop. We both work on our computers every day. His laptop died after two years and we had to get him his own MacBook. If he opted for the MacBook similar to mine, his laptop would probably still be working now. I am just glad that he finally made the switch to good hardware.
I understand the hesitation of some people about purchasing good hardware because it means you pay more out of pocket. In the long run, it actually saves you money and most importantly—time. Money, you can earn. Time, you can’t.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
There is no such thing as over-communicating. Whether you work from home or in an office, communication is key to a successful team. That is why at AE we use tools that help us communicate.
We use HipChat for instant messaging. This is a product of Atlassian that we’ve been using for several years now. If it’s something urgent and the other person is online, then HipChat is the way to go.
Another product of Atlassian is JIRA which we use as our project management tool. For each task that we have, there’s a corresponding JIRA ticket for it. We use the comment feature of JIRA to track what we’ve done and also to collaborate. More often than not, tasks are not exclusive to one person. By using the comment tool to communicate, we make sure that there’s no useless duplication of work done. Even when we update the JIRA task, we still send out a message through HipChat. This is very important when we are collaborating.
Confluence is another Atlassian product that we use. Think of it as a wiki platform where we keep a copy of our procedures, documentation, feedback, and a lot more. We also have our Daily Updates (or DU) in Confluence. The DU is our individual task list for everyone on the team to see. If I want to know whether Brooks will be reviewing the blog post I assigned to him, I can check his DU. If it’s not there and it needs to be done within the next 8 or 12 hours, then I can send him a HipChat message about it or someone else on the team, who has the bandwidth, can review it instead of Brooks.
If you’re wondering if the AE team talks with each other, the answer is yes. Every day (Monday through Friday) at 11 AM Central Time, the entire team logs in to Zoom.us for our Daily Huddle. By having the huddle set for the same time every day, wherever we are in the world, we all know the time for the Daily Huddle. It’s a very short meeting where we talk about our roadblocks and our priority for the day. This meeting keeps everyone informed of where we are with our priorities. Our priorities are all tied up with our quarterly goals which we also include in the Daily Huddle. The Huddle Champ, our term of endearment for the person leading the meeting for the week, will tell everyone where we are with our current goal so that the entire team is informed about the company’s performance.
Aside from our Daily Huddles, we have our Meeting Day where we have all of our meetings done in one day. Every Wednesday, we all know that not much work will be done because a majority of the time we will be in meetings. We have meetings for Customer Success, Operations, Finance, Weekly Team Meeting (where we talk about numbers), Backlog grooming (we discuss what we will be doing next), Strategy, and our Monthly Video Calls.
It wasn’t always like this. In the past, we had a meeting every day for different areas of the business and it meant that we had to prepare for a meeting every single day. When the idea of having a ‘Meeting Day’ came up, we all agreed that it would be for the best and everyone on the team is happy that we were able to overcome this hurdle of not wanting to be in meetings every single day. We no longer have to think about the reports that we need to prepare every day or switch from deep work to another meeting. You can check out our podcast episode TPS 195 where we talked about effective meetings and the amazing results we’ve gotten from implementing Meeting Day.
3. Learn and Implement Scrum
Think of Scrum as a project management framework that will help your team deliver results every 2 weeks (could be less or more) during what we call a Sprint. The iterative process of Scrum makes it hard for something to fall through the cracks—if something does, it gets caught early on and is resolved. For an in-depth explanation of Scrum, check out TPS 189 where we dedicated a podcast episode on SCRUM and how it could benefit your team
Here’s how AE uses Scrum
- At the beginning of every quarter, the leadership team meets and then decides on what the company will be focusing on for the quarter.
- Based on this meeting, we get our Quarterly Goals.
- Using these goals, we then create a backlog of tasks that will help us reach our quarterly goals.
- Now that we have these tasks, we then schedule when these tasks will be worked on during our Backlog Grooming meeting.
In Scrum, the “when part” is called the Sprint. We have two-week sprints and we use the calendar week number to name each Sprint. For example, if the task is going to be done at the first two weeks of the year, we call it GH Week 01-02 (GH meaning the Growth Hacking Team).
Since we’ve been using Scrum for a couple of years now, we already have a good idea as to how many tasks the team can finish every Sprint. Our goal is to finish 100% of the tasks. We’ve been hitting 100% consistently because we learn something new each Sprint through the Retrospective.
The Retrospective, which is done at the end of each Sprint, is where we discuss what went well, what could have gone better, what we should start/stop doing, and our lessons learned. This part of the Scrum process is very important because this is when we work on improving our processes. These improvements help us get more done in less time.
To know more about how we implement Scrum at AE, listen to TPS 191 where I share in more detail how we implement Scrum at AE.
4. Live and Breathe Your Company’s Core Values
The majority of companies have their own Core Values but most often than not, employees don’t really practice them or for some it’s just something written in the employees’ handbook.
At Asian Efficiency, our Core Values are sacred to us. It guides us on how we behave at the company. We make sure that we practice it every single day and not just when we are working but even outside of work. At any given time, if you ask an AE team member what our Core Values are they can answer you immediately and give you examples on how we apply it.
When we hire someone new, we always discuss the Core Values on the first day. We even use it during our hiring process to check if they are the right fit.
You might be wondering, what are AE’s core values? Our Core Values are:
Glow Green – be the best version of ourselves
Pull Others Up – help others and pull them up to our level
We Before Me – whatever we do, it is done as a team
Blow Their Minds – provide a ‘WOW’ experience
Kaizen – make small improvements every time we see an opportunity to do so
We give out Bonus.ly points based on our Core Values – think of these as virtual points that we give to our team members as a sign of appreciation. For example, when Mike created an awesome module for our Dojo community we gave him Bonus.ly points using the hashtag #blowtheirminds. Another example is when Mary made improvements to a process we gave her points using the hashtag #kaizen. Even during our Daily Huddle, we always mention one of our Core Values before ending the call. It’s a constant reminder of who we are as a company and what we hold dear.
5. Personal and Team Development
Everyone on the team takes their personal development seriously. We have our own Personal Development Plan every year. This is not dictated by the company but by us. We decide what we want to learn or improve on and we put it in writing together with a deadline. If there’s a conference we want to attend and will help us be better at what we are doing at AE, the company will pay for it. If there’s a non-fiction book we want to read for our personal development, we can just purchase it and AE will reimburse us the cost.
As a team, we do pairing sessions so that we can share our knowledge and skills with other team members. For example, Brooks has been training Marie on Ontraport (our CRM platform) and his goal is for Marie to reach his skill-level (#pullothersup). These pairing sessions are helping the team to be cross-functional. Meaning, if Brooks is away we don’t have to worry about work being stalled because Marie has the skills to take over or if Marie is away, I can take over her tasks.
By giving importance to the team’s development we have removed bottlenecks in our team. Nothing gets shut down when one is sick because someone else can help out. This ensures that tasks get done and projects are finished even if someone gets sick or if they need to take a break.
6. Physically Spend Time with Your Team
Although we virtually talk with everyone on the team every day, nothing beats personal interaction. That is why AE invests in team meet-ups to foster the best working relationship within the team. Once you’ve met someone in person, you’re more likely to go the extra mile for them. I am not saying that if you’ve never met your teammates your relationship is bad. What I am saying is, that based on our experience within AE, it significantly improved our team’s productivity because it also improved our relationship with each other. We noticed that after meeting someone in person, we are more comfortable working with each other.
We also noticed that there is a boost in productivity after every meet-up because we get to work with each other in one room and we get to observe how others work. We can talk about the tools we use and how we use them or it could be something as simple as shortcuts that we use that someone else didn’t know about.
7. 1on1 Sessions with the Head of the Company
Every 4 to 6 weeks, we schedule our 1on1 calls with Thanh (the founder of AE). We talk about how we are at work and outside of work. It’s when we discuss our short-term goals, long-term goals, problems, and such. Because we have trust in the team, it’s not hard to tell Thanh how we are feeling—no matter how raw the feeling is.
It is also the time where we get feedback and action plans on how to become better.
One thing to note, just because we have scheduled calls with Thanh—it doesn’t mean that we can’t talk to him anytime. We can reach out to him anytime we need to.
These calls help us with our areas of accountability as well. We get direction on what we need to do to get to where we want to be. Be it in our personal development or for the team. Thanh lays out the plans of the company and where you fit in the plan. There are no red-tapes on the information and because of this everyone is invested in the success of the company and of everyone else.
8. No Work During Leaves
When we’re on leave—we’re on leave. Meaning, we don’t work on the side. We don’t bring our laptops when we go on our vacations because we are not expected to work. If someone who’s supposed to be on leave and comes online on HipChat, most often than not they will be ordered to go offline and enjoy their break.
Personal leaves are important for AE. It is the time to recharge physically and most importantly mentally. If someone has not been on leave for a long time, they will be asked nicely to take a leave and just rest. We noticed, that when someone goes on leave and actually disconnects, that they come back renewed and ready to face and overcome hurdles.
9. Know How Each One Works
When you visit our website, you will be asked to take the Productivity Quiz to help you create more time in the day. When you join Asian Efficiency, you are also asked to take the Kolbe B Index test. There’s no pass or fail in this test. What it does is it helps us identify HOW you work.
It uses the following abilities:
- Fact Finder
- Follow Thru
- Quick Start
For example, if someone in your team is a high Fact Finder, you need to make sure that when you give them a task all the information is already there. Another example is if your teammate is low in Quick Start, then you have to make sure that you follow up regularly on a task. Knowing how you and your team works using the Kolbe B Index will save you time and will help you work well with others.
10. Trust Your Team
Trust is the foundation for successful and productive teams and the absence of trust makes it difficult to achieve success.
Thanh said this to me once: “Trust equals speed.”
When you trust the people you work with, it becomes easier to work with them and get things done quicker. You also know that when feedback is given, it is always constructive and there’s no ‘hidden’ meaning to it. Knowing this and being on a team that values trust, you can go about your tasks knowing that your team is behind you. They trust you and you trust them.
In the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, trust is at the very base of the pyramid. In the diagram below, you’ll see the five dysfunctions described in the book.
The absence of trust, which forms the foundation of the pyramid, hinders team members from opening up because they fear conflict. They do not want to argue or have energetic discussions with their team. When there is no openness in the team, it’s likely that they are also not committed because their opinion was not taken into consideration (they were not able to share their opinion because they feared conflict). This lack of commitment is then translated to avoidance of accountability. Why would you feel accountable for something that you never committed to? Lastly, when you are not accountable, you do not care about the results as long as it does not affect you directly.
As you can see from the diagram, everything starts with trust. It’s the base for highly productive teams and that’s why we focus so much on building trust in our teams. Without it, everything else fails.
Asian Efficiency, just like any other team, has faced challenges on a daily basis as the company grew. What made us rise above it all was our mindset that if it’s not working, we either change it all together or improve on it and as a team it has always been important for us that we always learn from these challenges. It didn’t demotivate us but instead made us work smarter. If you find yourself or your team going through a challenge, think about you can use this challenge as an opportunity to become better. Do not dwell on the past or the negative. Use it to make your future better.
Make an inventory of the improvements that you can do within your team that you think will help with your team’s productivity and morale. Use the tips above and let us know which ones you implemented and most importantly the results you’ve gotten from it.
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