Managing Teams

Your Manager Is Creating a Bottleneck at Work: Five Strategies for Improving Your Team’s Workflow

Bottleneck at Work: Improve Your Team's Workflow

Does this sound like a familiar scenario? You are always diligent with your work deadlines. But when you submit an assignment to your manager, they are slow to give you the feedback you need. Other times, they don’t sign off on your projects so you can’t move on to your next task.

Saying a bottleneck at work like this one creates frustration is an understatement. When someone higher up than you is promoting inefficiency in the workflow – and perhaps even making you look bad in the process – you have a reason to be concerned. How can you voice your issue without offending your superior?

Here, we’ll talk about five strategies you can use to eliminate a bottleneck at work and improve your team’s productivity.

Offer helpful nudges.

If you send an assignment to a boss who has a pattern of being slow to approve it, you may be tempted simply to passively send them email after email until they follow through. But emails are easy to ignore. Instead, use a variety of different channels, from connecting in person to sending messages on Slack or Microsoft Teams. Depending on your connection, you could even call or text your manager.

Even better is setting a deadline by which you need a response. This can create a definitive timeline that moves you to the front of the pack of your manager’s duties, rather than relegating your request to the bottom of a list of tasks without pressing due dates.

If you notice a pattern in your manager’s approval time, too, you could even complete your assignment early enough to submit it to your manager, work on other tasks, and then return to the original project while staying in line with the timelines you have set for yourself.

Perform a bottleneck analysis.

One way to objectively encourage your manager to see how they’re slowing down workflow is performing a bottleneck analysis. The first step is determining four factors: 

  • Each work stage
  • Each person responsible for each task in that stage
  • Factors determining completion of the stage
  • Factors determining completion of the project

After this part of the analysis is completed, the next step is determining where bottlenecks arise and who is causing them. If you can guide your manager towards identifying themselves as the culprit of the bottleneck, you can avoid awkward conversations or feelings of blame.

Offer alternatives to receiving feedback or approval on every project.

One of the reasons your higher up could be causing a bottleneck is they expect too much oversight and can’t keep up with the demands this micromanaging puts on their time.

Career expert Alison Green recommends directly or indirectly asking for fewer approvals or sign-offs from managers, without taking away their oversight.

“For instance, on certain types of projects you might include a note saying ‘I’ll plan to ___ (send this to the printer/move forward as outlined here/run with these numbers) on Friday unless I hear otherwise from you before then,’” Green suggests.

Ask your manager to share information more freely.

Another reason you may be encountering a bottleneck is that your manager has information that they don’t offer to the rest of the team. This means whenever you need to ask them a question about a budgeting item or company plan, you have to ask them before continuing your work.

An easy way to eliminate this bottleneck is sharing information more freely. Velaction, a continuous improvement firm, suggests that giving teams the knowledge they need to do their jobs does not put managerial jobs at risk; rather, it ensures everyones’ time is used efficiently.

“Give your teams more information, and they will make better decisions. When they are thinking in terms of actual dollars, they will also be more likely to weigh the costs and benefits of the decision, and will even filter out some of their requests on their own,” the company writes.

Collaborate to develop more efficient processes.

You don’t have to assume your manager is completely unaware of the bottleneck they are causing. Perhaps they simply don’t have any ideas about how to streamline or simplify the approval processes they have in place.

The first step is to connect with your manager about the slowdowns you’re encountering. Then, if they recognize these inefficiencies, they can gather the team together to develop new, more effective plans.

Your manager may even praise you for identifying precisely how workflow was being disrupted. As Alexander Tuff, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Strategy at Winged Keel Group, notes, “Rewarding employees for removing bottlenecks, over-production, and poor prioritization will help create a culture of continuous improvement.”

Restoring Flow Through Bottlenecks

A bottleneck at work doesn’t have to signal a decrease in your productivity. However, it does mean that you may need to have difficult conversations with your higher-ups. Even if these conversations make you uncomfortable, you need to address issues with bottlenecks at work so you don’t face the blame for productivity snafus and can work more efficiently.


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