How to Keep Your Team Focused
Updated: May 26, 2020
Every leader is familiar with that blissful feeling when you and your team wrap up your strategic planning efforts for the year (or whatever time frame you operate within). You leave those meetings exhausted but assured that everyone is on the same page regarding priorities for the coming days. The team is focused, refreshed and have momentum that will carry them forward towards the organization’s goals. And finally, a divine pause allows you to take a breath and bring some attention to your own work because you have confidence your team is on the right track and moving ahead.
You will likely also recognize the feelings that follow days, weeks and months later, when you begin seeing signs that members are drifting. Distraction has returned. Ad-hoc requests, daily emergencies and competing agendas have crept back into your strategic activities, threatening to derail that once clear focus. As their leader, your team is your responsibility. You are accountable for their progress. Therefore, one of your most critical responsibilities is to help your team hold their focus, and that is no small feat.
Human beings tend to be unfocused creatures at the best of times. It takes discipline and energy to be focused and, even more discipline to ‘remain’ focused, especially when there is so much noise going on around us and commanding our attention. We are tethered to our devices and these days, more so than ever before, our very understanding of what life will look like is tied to every headline, government announcement and medical update. Added to that, are the challenges of working from home and those associated and inevitable distractions. Is it any wonder people are having trouble focusing on their work?
Below, are a few key tactics we believe will help keep your team focused.
1. Align work directly with strategic objectives:
Every initiative the team is working on should be linked to one or more strategic objectives. If that linkage is not obvious, then the work is not priority and should be set aside to be reassessed at a later date. This is the only way to ensure the organization is making progress towards its goals. It’s very easy to end up wasting time and energy on tasks that ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’, but upon closer inspection are not going to help you get to where you need to be.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate:
This may seem obvious, but there is no such thing as over communicating to your team what is important, who should do it and when it should be done. Distractions can easily muddle messaging and that’s when assumptions take over. Your responsibility is to provide direction and the more frequent, consistent and disciplined you are with your messaging, the more likely it is to stick.
3. Do not meet unless it is necessary:
Nothing in business generates as much wasted time as meetings. Do the math: an hour-long meeting x the number of participants= x hours of organizational time. Experience has proven there is often little accomplished in terms of actionable progress, especially with the dreaded recurring meetings that live in our calendars. Before you schedule or accept a meeting request, ask the question: “Why are we meeting?”
Despite what business culture may demonstrate, there are usually only two situations that justify a meeting. The first being to resolve a conflict, in which those people relevant can address concerns, debate decisions and propose solutions, and the second being to coordinate a complex action plan that involves multiple people or teams. Once that action plan is set, regular updates can be done via email, with another face-to-face meeting only required to resolve conflict or change direction of the original plan.
4. Organize talent:
One of the best ways to ensure your team remains focused on their work is to ensure the activities are matched to those people with the appropriate skill set and talent. Concentrating on key strengths is far easier and more effective that constantly trying to improve weaknesses.
5. Focus on less:
Rather than trying to get everything done at once, choosing priorities carefully will help you focus on the 20% of your work that will generate 80% of your results.
The other key piece to managing workload is having a process in place to deal with all the ad-hoc requests, bright new ideas and emergencies that your team is inundated with every day. It is this work and your team’s well-meaning intentions to help, that can completely overwhelm them and their staff. Begin by letting people know there is a process in place to submit their work requests through. This funnel will allow your team to assess whether the work is relevant and allow them to better manage their time and staff accordingly.
Extraordinary circumstances like those we find ourselves in today are unavoidable, but one of the most common issues we deal with are leaders and teams who are regularly overloaded and over committed. Often, it is a self-imposed issue of trying to do too much, for all the right reasons. The deeper the piling on becomes, the harder it is to focus on what is truly important. Success and clarity can begin with having the discipline to say ‘no’.
“Focus on doing the right things, instead of a bunch of things.”