I'm looking for a way to ask my team members what they devote their time to all day without sounding accusatory or micromanaging. It's about the amount of time they need for different tasks, not so much about the tasks themselves.

They all have just a few tasks and when I asked them to estimate how much time they need for each, the sum of effort for all their activities was 2-3 h/ day ( all activities together! Not one activity). Yet, if I assign them new tasks they complain they don't have time. So I'm wondering what's the reason.

It's possible they misestimated the time they devote to different tasks of course, but I can't know it myself.

Their tasks are mostly regular, they aren't working on projects.

I can't compare them with one another cause their tasks aren't comparable.

My aim is to make the team'm operations more efficient by understanding where optimization potentials lie. I'm new in the team so I don't want team members to think I distrust them.

  • Well, if they need 2-3h each, then they can do about 2 per day, maybe 3 if they are very lucky that day. You say the do "a few". How for away from "a few" is the statistical "2" they can do by their own estimation? Where do you see a difference in your estimations?
    – nvoigt
    May 5, 2020 at 6:26
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    @nvoigt, I reformulated, hope it's clearer now.
    – BigMadAndy
    May 5, 2020 at 6:27
  • 2-3 hours means two 3 hours ones and one 2 hours. IF they don't do anthing else (like answering emails, taking coffe, bathroom brakes etc). So you can safely have two 3 hours or 3 two hours ones. If tasks are regular (and repetitve) ask them how parts of them can be automated. May 5, 2020 at 8:12
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    Have you considered just asking what they spend the rest of their time on? Sounds like the main waste lies outside of their actual assigned tasks (or they are AWFUL at estimating, but I doubt anyone would miss the difference between 2-3 hours and a full day of work)
    – Erik
    May 5, 2020 at 9:34
  • @Joe Strazzere, yes.
    – BigMadAndy
    May 5, 2020 at 11:44

2 Answers 2


I'll give you some background from an unrelated field first. Please bear with me. My SO works in a refinery, when she needs an electrician for a project or change, there's an Excel sheet somewhere that states an efficiency factor. I just looked, it's 0.3. That means that for a job that would take 2 hours, her project will be billed 2h/0.3. The field next to it is a team factor. It's currently 2, for electricians. It means that while one install your lamp, the other electrician is doing... something. That makes it 2/0.3*2, or 13.3 hours.

That's a huge multinational that took the time to measure what happens when people work. Time gets lost. Pretty consistently. There's inefficiencies, unions, surprises, safety considerations, laziness, all sort of stuff. Mature organizations measure it, account for it, then move on. Even if 13.3 hours for changing a lamp is mind boggling.

If you go at your team with the stated goal of addressing the time usage, you'll come off as a micro-manager and won't get anything improved.

Instead, you need to realize something: until your team can be fully honest with you, you won't know where the inefficiencies are. What employee would tell you "Bob is a lazy slob, we never get his stuff in time". Or "the union want it this way".

Get you team trust first, ask them what they need, what they want. What would make their live easier. Once you know them and they know you are not out to get them, ask them what would they need to be more efficient. Then they'll tell you.

But you need to first get in a position where it's ok for your employees to tell you things as they are. Is it ok for them to air conflict within the team? Can they tell you about dependencies from other team that report to your boss? Can they tell you they are bored to death without impact to their career? Can they tell you they need extra certifications, etc...?


(I'm going to assume you have some sort of leadership position in the team, and the members are accountable to you in some way.)

Don't ask for an exact time.

The thing you actually want is to understand where the optimisation potentials are. So rather than ask your team-members indirect questions, straight up ask them how you can help them work more efficiently.

While they all work on different tasks, there may be commonalities between them. There may be shared pain across the whole team that can be alleviated.

Also, something you may want to consider, and may be possible, see if you can mix up their duties. Yes, there is a bit of a cost, and you'll have to see if it's worth it, but you may actually improve motivation, and a fresh set of eyes on old problems can help establish new and better ways of doing things.

There is no real way for you to ask them what they are doing without sounding accusatory. But from the sounds of your objectives, you don't need to.

  • This may work in some settings, but our problem is that super long-wired processes were created by exactly the people who now complain about not having time. I asked them for suggestions what to make better, but they don't seem to see themselves how inefficient everything is.
    – BigMadAndy
    May 5, 2020 at 11:47
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    I don't know what long-wired means. If they are are not able to name a single place where they can be more efficient, I think it's time to get a contractor in and get their inputs. Generally employers hate this, but if they are not willing to think about how things can be improved, it may be time for an external opinion. May 5, 2020 at 14:43

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