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Focus: How to Keep Your Teams from Being Consumed by Countless Distractions

By Jessica Wishart

    Tue, Nov 3, 2020 @ 11:12 AM Accountable Leaders & Teams

    For many, our current environment is more distracting than any other time in our work lives. With a how to keep teams focusedpandemic raging, a U.S. election looming, and economic uncertainty lurking, there are lots of competing priorities for your employees’ time and attention. If your employees are working remotely, they may be working in uncomfortable spaces without the right equipment, navigating remote learning challenges with children, or figuring out shared schedules with partners or roommates. Even if your team is back in the office, they are likely distracted by new protocols for social distancing and mask wearing, worrying about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones, concerned about being furloughed or a myriad of other distractions. 

    How can you keep the team productive and working on the right things in a challenging time?

    Here are 5 simple tips to getting your teams focused:

    1. Share the stakes. Motivate your teams to act by reminding them of your company’s purpose; anchor back to ‘why.’ Why should they attend to this particular project or client or meeting or email? Why is their work important? What is the impact for the company of their focused attention? You cannot expect the team to focus if they don’t know what’s important. Share your company purpose, vision and strategy with the team.
    2. Provide clarity. Be very explicit about what your team members need to accomplish. Ensure every person knows what to focus on everyday to be successful and what success looks like. You don’t have to micromanage your team’s every move, but you do need to communicate clearly what results you expect them to produce and by when. If your team is overloaded, help them prioritize the work so they know what to focus on first. You cannot expect the team to focus if they don’t know what to do. If you don’t have clear priorities as a team, schedule a planning session now to discuss, debate, and decide what your priorities are and what success looks like. 
    3. Close the gap. Sharing the purpose and expectations isn’t enough. You have to validate that the team received that information. This is even more difficult if you are remote; you can’t stop them in the hall and ask if your presentation on the new strategic direction was clear. You need to set the vision, explain their role and how they contribute to the company’s success, and have them communicate back to you to confirm your message was understood. You can’t expect the team to do the work if there’s a gap between what you expect and what they hear.
    4. Work together. Ensure you are meeting regularly with your teams to solve problems together, uncover roadblocks, and understand their progress on important priorities. We recommend weekly team meetings at the very least; many of our most successful customers also do daily huddles and one-on-ones at a regular cadence. Create an environment where it is safe for team members to share when they are concerned or distracted and help to coach them through this difficult time with empathy. Having a visual dashboard for sharing results can help you intervene early if there’s a key project at risk of failing due to distraction.
    5. Focus on results. Are they getting the job done? Celebrate the team’s success when there are victories, and learn from mistakes when those happen. If the team is dropping the ball due to lack of focus, remind them of the stakes and anchor back to the common purpose and clear expectations you’ve set. If there’s a performance issue on the team, don’t be afraid to address it openly with the team member.

    how to keep teams focused

    If you have individual team members who are struggling with focus, here are some individual productivity tips that can help:

    • Open your day by writing down your top priority for that day. Make sure you have time scheduled on your calendar to accomplish that priority.
    • Close your workday by writing down your top victory from the day. Create a ritual that helps you separate your work time from your home time so you don’t fall into the trap of always being “sort of” at work. That’s a recipe for burnout.
    • Minimize distractions in your workspace by closing the door or investing in noise-canceling headset.
    • Structure your time so you can do focused work when your family members, pets or others sharing your remote workspace are quiet or occupied.
    • Avoid pop-up notifications on apps and scrolling through social media sites if possible. Limit your news intake to once or twice a day, and set a limit on the amount of time you’ll spend consuming news.
    • Take breaks throughout the day to stretch, move around, get water or a healthy snack, and go outside. Exercise and adequate sleep are essential to being able to focus.
    • Practice meditation or mindfulness to improve your mental health and ability to concentrate.
    • Ask for help when you need it, and take time off to recharge if you are distracted to the point of burnout.

    As a leader, you can best help your teams focus if you model these best practices, yourself. Putting habits and systems in place to weave focus, alignment and accountability into your company’s culture will help you encourage team members to execute strongly, even when there are so many distractions.

    Download Team Accountability Assessment 

    Here is more information on Team Accountability:

    Why You Need a Peak Performance Plan for Your A-Players

    Leadership Accountability Definition in Management

    Level 5 Leadership - How to be a Level 5 Leader

    Team Accountability Begins with Personal Accountability

    How top CEOs Close the Strategy Execution Gap

    Follow Up: The Key To Leadership Development

    Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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