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Asana launches new tools to help distributed teams stay aligned on goals

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright June 7, 2022
Work management vendor Asana introduces new features to help 'macro-manage' how digital teams and individuals contribute to wider enterprise goals.

Business and the goal of each person concept business confusion © Zenzen - Shutterstock
(© Zenzen - Shutterstock)

Work management vendor Asana today launched a set of additional features and integrations designed to help digital teams co-ordinate their work. Digital connection makes it possible for team members to work from different locations or functions, but at the same time it becomes harder to see how each individual's efforts contribute to overall goals. The antidote, according to Asana, is use its software to link tasks and projects to the wider objectives and mission of the organization as a whole. This gives leaders an overview of what's going on at a macro level, with the ability to drill down to see where they need to help individual team members overcome bottlenecks.

Asana calls this wider view an example of 'macro-management', as opposed to the traditional approach of micro-managing individual tasks without that big-picture perspective. Alex Hood, Chief Product Officer, explains:

Macro-management ... is leading by outcome orientation. I think that the world's leaders have grown up as managers through a micro-management framework ... You get leaders who just go and swoop in and do specific things, create direction, and then move on to the next set of nitty-gritty details.

We've made a stronger connection between individual prioritization and company prioritization, so that you can be assured as a leader that goals are aligned.

Reducing micro-management

The new tools complement this approach, for example providing automated real-time updates on how completed work is moving the needle towards key initiatives, rather than spending time bringing people together for status meetings. Hood elaborates:

We can reduce micro-management further by making the achievement of goals have some smart automation, some intelligence, that flag things to you. Your job as a manager ends up being more about, [being able to] monitor and unblock your teams to do great work.

As an individual contributor, your role can be more about cranking out that great work that you know is important, without spending all those extra cycles updating everybody about the work that you should be doing.

There's also a facility to recognize individual and team achievements that contribute to organizational goals, and new project templates that managers can use for personalized coaching. Hood gives an example:

You and I are working on a project together, and I complete three tasks. Then you see that that contributed 2% more to the goal. and it took us out of yellow and went to green. Or if I'm late, you can see that we're stuck in yellow as of today because my stuff's overdue. And you can dig in and help, without having to ask me every two weeks or every Friday, how's your stuff going?

Taking away the burden of manually tracking multiple tasks helps reduces the pressure on managers. He adds:

You have more burnout when you are responsible for looking at every single detail along the way. What if there's a world where you can trust real-time data around how more initiative-level work is going on, without having status meetings to stitch together that view of the reality?

Collective sense of purpose

Individuals can also see how their work relates to wider organizational goals in a new My Goals tab. Giving people this insight into the contribution they're making helps employee engagement, he argues, because it contributes to a sense of collective purpose. Hood explains:

To create that purpose, to surface the prioritization, to get managers out of the weeds and manage by outcomes, to align individual goals to organizational goals, those are all great drivers to not only drive employee engagement, which is important, but companies with higher engagement, they deliver more, their outcomes are better. There's a tonne of academic research about that.

There's a lot of software out there that measures employee engagement, but there's few that can actually do something about it. At the top level, employee engagement really is about, does my contribution matter? How can my contribution matter? [With] our goals and OKR framework, you can hitch your individual goals to that, you can hitch your individual work to that. You can use our new one-to-one templates so that your goals are something that you're constantly going over to make sure that you are contributing to something that really matters.

Other elements of today's announcements include an integration with employee engagement survey tool CultureAmp, tighter integration with Google Workspace to automatically bring comments and action points into Asana, and a new integration with collaborative visual design tool Figma.

Asana has also introduced a set of new features in its mobile and desktop apps to support users at times when they need to concentrate on focus work without being distracted by notifications from other apps. It can also suggest when they should set aside time in the week ahead to give close attention to a specific task, based on their goals for the week. Hood explains:

What do you really need to accomplish this week ... based on your goals and your priorities? You can set that intention and then you can reflect on that intention after you've completed some of your work, and in your calendaring for the week. That intentionality in a way is macro-managing yourself — making sure that your work is focused on the thing that's really going to move the needle for you and the company.

My take

My perspective on these announcements is slightly different from how Asana is promoting the new features to enterprise buyers. I'm looking at it more from the point of view of individual employees. I think one of the reasons why some organizations want to reject working from home and go back to the traditional office setup is that they can't adapt their culture to a more distributed work style.

People can't work autonomously if they're not trusted. If they don't have enough information about how their work is contributing to the wider goals of the organization, then they become dependent on being told what to do — on being micro-managed. They don't have the information they need to be able to act on their own initiative. They have no agency.

Digital teamwork requires trust and agency to be successful. It demands transparency and tools that allow people to act autonomously, while still understanding how what they're doing relates to the work of the rest of the team. This announcement shows Asana providing tools that enable all of that, but many organizations do not yet have a culture that's ready to take full advantage.

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