This is a topic likely of greater concern in larger enterprises than in their smaller brethren, but worth some consideration by all leaders.
The idea behind the title question of this post is simple: there are activities undertaken by your team that add significant value to your company but, almost certainly, others that don't. You clearly want to shift time and energies spent on the latter to the former.
Value creating tasks tend to be outward focused: meeting with customers to develop new opportunities, creating new products and services to bring to market, solving customer problems, communications with the people that influence your fortunes (customers, partners, press and analysts, investors…) and cultivating new partnerships aimed at enhancing your value to customers.
While there are important value creating inward directed activities (e.g. planning processes, meetings and other communications means aimed at ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction), it is very easy, especially in larger organizations, for an increasing proportion of available resource to be spent on activities that are entirely about "the inner life" of the organization:
- Writing and reading internal emails that are too long, poorly focused, distributed too widely, or not directed at value-creating topics;
- Sitting through endless meetings without clearly defined objectives or agenda, with too many people in the room;
- Overly elaborate preparations for internal presentations (because they've become the cultural norm);
- Dealing with the same old problem again and again, because of a culture too weak in candor and accountability or a reluctance to confront difficult people decisions;
- Wasted time getting to a decision on action because the organization has too many layers, underdeveloped skills in fact-based decision making, not enough focus on the customer or a lack of sense of urgency;
- Any process that exists more because "that's the way it's always been done" than because it serves a useful purpose today.
I'm sure that you can add many other items to this list. You get the idea.
It's not that anyone consciously sets out to create time-wasting activities. They just sort of happen, typically as organizations grow and mature. In some cases they exist because at some point in the past they added value. In others, they're protected by people whose jobs are linked to them. In many others, they exist only because they're under the radar screen. But they are likely sucking up a great deal of your team's available energy, every single day.
As a leader, it's your job to root them out.
It starts with awareness. That's why I'm writing this. Take another look at the list above. Recognize any of these things going on around you? I'll bet you do. Put a spotlight on them (so others will see the waste) and then put a stop sign in front of them.
[ Note: There are likely many not-so-obvious non-value-add practices scattered around your organization and its work flows. There are surely others that may be painfully apparent, but where the steps toward their effective elimination or retooling are not, or where side effect risks or implementation costs may be great. In all of these cases, you'll need to reach into the Continuous Improvement tool kit for one of the broad array of available structured problem solving techniques (DMAIC, Kaizen…). My notes today are directed at the simpler forms of waste. Those that are obvious to all (or at least most) and easy to eliminate with minimal complication or risk. I claim that dealing with these has great power precisely because they are so visible to everyone. Your tolerance of there continued existence is a tacit endorsement of waste that saps vigor from your team.]
If you focus on this and follow through with leadership action, your team will thank you and your organization will benefit from the application of freed up resource to the real work of your company: delivering value to your customers by making, selling and servicing great products.