I was working with a group of team leaders. For most of them, it was their first experience in management. I began the training by taking them through my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management. When we had completed the 13 modules, I handed them a survey to complete about the training. Among other questions I asked what they’d like to discuss further, and what challenges they faced as leaders.

A member of the management class answered that one of his biggest challenges was keeping his people busy. I asked if it was due to lack of work or keeping teammates on task. He answered, “both.” He told me that when business slowed down it was a challenge to keep his team focused and find work for them. However, when it was busy, they’d jump from one task to another without completing the first. Here’s what I shared with him.

Keeping Your Team Busy When It’s Slow

When the work has slowed, it can be a challenge to keep your team busy. There will be times that there just isn’t enough work to go around, which can lead to reduced hours and layoffs. However, before cutting hours, a manager should take a hard look at the department and determine if there are tasks at hand that would benefit the operation and keep employees busy. Here are a few ideas.


When work is slow, it can be the perfect time to train your team. You can accomplish this in groups or one-on-one depending on the needs of the team. If there are multiple jobs within the department, consider cross-training.

Be Prepared

I work with a landscaping company in the Midwest. They know as winter approaches their work will slow down. The company added snow removal to their resume, but that doesn’t replace all the work or keep all their employees busy. There are times they have no choice but to lay people off. However, they do take advantage of the time to train, organize, upkeep, and maintain. The slow time gives them a chance to get to tasks that they had continued to put off. Before work slows down make a list of work you need to get to but keep putting off – it’s a chance to mark it off your list.

Help Other Departments

At TKO Graphics the production division is made up of five departments, digital, screen, plotter, finishing, and quality control. Ten years ago, they didn’t spend much time helping each other. But over the years, through cross-training and leadership development that has changed. For example, the finishing department has been very busy. The screen print department isn’t as busy, so they’ve jumped in to help finishing. That’s great teamwork, good leadership, and excellent time management.

Make it Better

When business is slow, it could be the perfect time to improve processes. Gather the team to take a close look at current procedures and identify areas of potential improvement. If you don’t have checklists – make them. If you don’t have a procedural manual – create one. Use the time to make your team more productive and efficient.

Keeping Your Team on Task When It’s Busy

Okay, we’ve covered a few ideas to use when things are slow, but what if that’s not your problem? What if your department is so busy that employees are getting lost? Here are a few ideas.

Stay on Task

If you have team members that leave one job to go to another without your approval, you need to put a stop to it by letting them know they are not empowered to make that decision. Inform them that if anyone asks them to leave a job and go to another to tell that person the need to come to you, the manager. Switching tasks before completion slows the job and often leads to mistakes. Whenever possible avoid switching tasks before completion.

Break it Down

With some larger tasks, it may be best to break them down into smaller components. While working with a home remolding company, I watched a senior window installer training a new hire. Rather than give him a window to replace. The experienced installer broke it down into smaller tasks. Remove furnishings near the window, remove the existing window, replaced weathered or damaged casing, install the new window, trim the window. Not only did this help the trainee, but the senior installer could inspect each step of the installation.

Set Priorities and Goals

Let your team know what the most important tasks are and set goals to achieve them. You can’t just “do” a goal you must identify and share the actions needed to hit the goal. When you don’t set expectations with your team, who knows what they’ll do next? I know this for certain — you don’t. You need to set expectations on production, the time needed to complete the goal, and the activities to reach the goal.

Limit Distractions

The first step in limiting distractions is to make it clear to other managers, salespeople, marketers, and customer service reps to come to you with questions not your team. Next, don’t become a distraction yourself. Try not to interrupt your teams work. Before you distract a co-worker, consider the consequences, will it slow them down, cause them to start over, or hinder their production in any way?

Recognize Achievements

One of the best ways to keep people on track is to recognize positive behaviors. When you recognize teammates for their activities, character, and results many of them will repeat the behavior.

Have Some Fun

When your team is overloaded with work and deadlines loom like a guillotine blade held over their collective heads it can be an effective strategy to have a little fun. Order pizza and have a group lunch, start a fun competition, or decorate the office. Here’s more on having fun at work while still getting the job done, 10 ways to promote fun at work.

Keeping Your Team on Track

Whether your business is slow or so busy it’s hard to keep your head above water; it can be a challenge to keep your team on track. When it’s slow, you should stay ahead of your team with worthwhile jobs they can do. And when it’s busy, it’s your job to keep them on task until work is completed.

I have a challenge for you. Pick one action from keeping your team busy and one from keeping your team on task and try them. If you already do them then take it from good to great. Let me know how it works. Have a great day.

How Can I help? 

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a  management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash