Issue Date: December 4, 2017
When it comes to avoiding team burnout, there is no silver bullet. This statement was confirmed by the Harvard Business Review article “The Overcommitted Organization,” published in the September–October issue.
We live in strange times, and no matter how many successes—or failures—one has had, team burnout is always a risk, especially at this time of year: With pending deadlines and 2017 goals to be achieved, getting everything done in the last weeks of the year is difficult.
Part of the problem, like the HBR article suggests, is that we overcommit. Every January we start the year with good intentions and then throw them out the window by biting off more than we can chew and making it impossible to achieve all that we want to. Slowly, as the months go by, the ambitious year we have imagined becomes unrealistic. Another factor adding to burnout is what the HBR authors term “multiteaming”—having staff assigned to multiple projects simultaneously. Many organizations now depend on multiteaming, but most haven’t done enough to take care of the downsides.
Multiteaming can be beneficial because it allows more efficient use of employees’ time and energy. Instead of having employees’ talents wasted during off-peak times in one project, employees can step in and out of multiple projects so that they are never inactive. This approach means that teams are likely to be diverse, capable of solving complex problems, and able to share best practices beyond their “first team.” The risk, however, is trust. Or the lack of it, to be precise. When individuals are part of a team, they are likely to build lasting personal connections with fellow teammates. When multiteaming, though, relationships are weaker because members interact less. If we all agree that personal trust underpins team spirit and commitment to fellow members and team outcomes, it is easy to see that this is a significant drawback of multiteaming compared to traditional teams.
Motivation can also suffer in a multiteaming strategy, as people feel they and others are pulled in many directions. Stress and burnout follow. The HBR article notes that senior-level managers in the eight global professional services firms the authors surveyed were “flipping among seven or more projects in a single day—and as many as 25 in a given week.” It’s no surprise that stress and burnout set in.
In terms of solutions, there are tools and methodologies that can help. Software exists that allows team members to keep up-to-date, track progress, and communicate with others on the team. Some groups map each member’s skills and ensure everybody knows how each person will contribute to the project. This increases the chances that members trust one another and commit to team and project.
For C&EN, 2017 has been a very good year, and we have enjoyed bringing you the latest news in the world of chemistry as it happened. Although we don’t risk burnout—yet—we look forward to the end-of-year break in our weekly magazine publishing schedule. If you were waiting for a cue to start to wind down, this issue is it. As is now traditional, we have looked back over the past 11 months and produced C&EN’s Year in Chemistry. This special will span two issues (Dec. 4 and 18), and during the weeks of Dec. 11 and 25, you will not receive issues of C&EN. But you can still visit our website daily for the latest news.
So what can you expect to see in the Year in Chemistry special? Everything from molecular machines to the opioid crisis, the evolution of CRISPR and gene therapy, the coolest molecules chemists made this year, the controversies around chlorpyrifos or glyphosate, and more. One of my favorites is the timeline on page 36. The title says it all: It has been a whirlwind year.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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