Focus is a perpetual challenge. After all, adjusting and maintaining our focus is a daily battle. Hence, most of us take it personally. We seldom talk about our ability to focus. We are seldom forthwith about fatigue, distractions or procrastination. Conversely, we seldom talk about burnout or our inability to concentrate.
Focus can radically affect our lives. Because it can mean anything from a moment of inattention to forgetting about long-term goals. When we lose focus, we undeniably have a lot more to lose. This article details what losing focus entails at the level of the team and, at the same time, advances practical ways to help the people on your team regain focus and concentrate on goals.
The trials and tribulations of focus loss
Focus works a lot like a rechargeable battery. We “burn-up” our battery and then we need to recharge. If we don’t recharge, we experience burnout. In the meantime, we can’t focus that well.
Undeniably, some of us have better batteries. However, this is not just a consequence of human variation. Indeed, our focus is trainable. The average person can focus for as long as 20 minutes without experiencing strain. Yet, some people can go for as long as 8 hours. Neurosurgeons and experienced meditators, t0 be sure.
At a team level, focus is an even greater challenge. Team focus is tougher because things get complicated. After all, a team is a complex organism, at its best. For example, team members often have to synchronize. From short events such as meetings, to setting and reaching set goals.
Team focus is a team effort. Hence, the consequences are team-level. Team burnout, team procrastination, poor team synchronization. Loss of focus takes the team out of gears. It can make everyone feel burned out, strained. This in effect puts down communications and team happiness. However, one good thing is that you can do a number of things to fix it.
How losing focus happens to the best of teams
Any leadership position brings forth a great deal of responsibility. On the one hand, there is the inherent responsibility of getting the job done. Finish the project on time. Reach set goals, get it done before the deadline. Equally, there is the inherent responsibility of taking care of the team. Without a doubt, there are situations in which teams can take better care of themselves. To explain, in flattened hierarchies show some promise in this sense.
However, it’s often the case that responsibility with team focus falls on the leader. And even when there is no clear-set leader, the responsibility remains.
And on average, there is a lot of pressure on anyone responsible for a team. So you can only imagine what it feels like to realize that your team lost focus. You spent days or weeks in meetings clearing out the path.
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Somehow, for no good reason, your team is far off, dealing with something else. This can happen to all of us, it is part of human nature. We are not naturally equipped to collaborate to the standards required by modern work.
Sure, sometimes it has to do with team roles. When team roles are unclear, things can escalate all the way to open conflicts. In similar fashion, maybe several team members are overlapping work. In spite of all those meetings, part of the team is busy with a work conflict.
Team focus lost to misdirection
Teams lose focus to misdirection when they set on the wrong tracks. The difference does not have to be obvious. In fact, it stars with something subtle. Something unclear about goals, or perhaps a nuance lost in translation. Miscommunication or insufficient explanations. Reasons may vary. And so do results.
Not setting goals the right way contributes to misdirection. We’ve covered goal-setting before. And we’ve even covered micro-goals as a strategic tool. It’s very clear that setting goals is very important for focus. But it’s rather common that teams lose track of their common mission.
Team goals may be clearly formulated, but too far away in the future to matter. In other words, they are important, but not immediately so. Hence, teams stray. And as soon as they stray, they lose purpose.
It’s not enough to set goals to make the team focus. You need to set them in such a way that the team always has clarity of purpose. Perhaps a wonderful display of KPI boards can help. These are tools that track team progress toward team goals.
Another key issue where teams lose focus is miscommunication. While too much communication can exhaust your team (think boring meetings and interruptions), ineffective communication is even worse.
Chinese whispers or “telephone” is a way to illustrate what miscommunication is to an organization. This is a game in which participants stand in line. They whisper the same phrase from one end of the line to another. With each iteration, the message degrades to humorous results. This happens in all natural communication systems in which the message is not relayed “as is.” Indeed, most organizations generate plenty of funny echoes. A simple solution would be to use a smarter, more objective team communications solution.
Team focus lost to redirection
Teams redirect focus because something changed. They now need to change tracks and head towards a new set of goals. Very often, however, it might be procedural. The goals might stay the same; what is different is the overall approach.
But change is a constant. Hence, redirecting focus is almost as common. However, changing tracks is never smooth. With trains at least, it could mean anything from a slight bump to using a crane. And naturally, everything needs to stop for some time. Trains are massive; and team inertia is quite similar. Getting “the hang of things” and “getting used to doing things a certain ways.” These both contribute to team inertia. Hence, whenever change occurs, redirecting focus will be tough.
There is some irony to this, after all, we do spend quite a lot of time involuntarily redirecting our focus. Now, however, focus is redirected because of an external element. Something that requires more planning and strategizing. At the core, this external element is a distraction. When you redirect team focus, your team loses track. It’s a confusing time, and you need to adjust to this accordingly. Soften the blow, so to speak.
What makes it worse, however, is that you’d typically need a meeting to recover from redirection. And meetings are, by themselves, a huge focus burner. Normally, redirection is a constant in the business world. To a certain extent, it is something accounted for. But no amount of planning can cover for the jolts of stopping a team in its tracks.
A point often overlooked is that it is normal for teams to need breaks. Whenever a redirection happens, you might as well treat it as a break. How? Simply plan for the interruption, and, in this case, schedule it.
Team focus exhausted before reaching a goal
Teams can lose focus because their resources are depleted. Ranging from organizational resources, to personal resources such as motivation. To clarify, exploring team budgets and other organization issues is of no interest here. Instead, let us focus on the personal level and group dynamics.
Motivation is a major factor in focus. It has a direct effect at all levels. Firstly, it is motivation that helps with maintaining focus. Once it gets difficult, it’s motivation that helps you push through. Secondly, motivation plays a huge role in recovery. To clarify, you can’t force recovery, but being motivated helps a lot. The alternative is procrastination. Lastly, motivation has a considerably important role in building your “battery capacity.” Motivation can increase endurance. Endurance is what you need to focus for longer periods of time.
But there are many types of motivation. And while fostering intrinsic motivation is possible, re-energizing a whole team is a different matter. In his book, “Group Dynamics for Teams“, Daniel Levi clearly explains how tiredness affects team conflicts. Exhausted teams are more likely to argue over anything. In a sense, it’s a defense mechanism. Each new development feels like a personal attack. Exhausted teams manage conflicts poorly. Decision making is affected, and more errors occur. Meanwhile, decision fatigue starts to levy in a greater toll.
One important way teams get exhausted is by misdirection and redirection. They both follow a similar logic to interruptions. When we focus, we load various elements into a mental buffer. We can build new ideas or rehash old ones, it’s our playing ground. The moment our focus is misdirected or redirected, we clear this buffer. An identical reload is impossible to replicate. Meanwhile, it burns a lot of energy.
Preventive measures to manage team focus loss
By now we have explored the general scenarios in which teams can lose focus. It follows naturally that we should try and prevent this from happening. Some measures can improve your odds, while others can help you mitigate the effects.
It is important to realize that these are indirect measures. They target other issues, but have a direct effect on team focus.
On the other hand, other measures might have an unexpected result. For example, happiness at work. It may somewhat reduce individual focus while boosting creativity. Overall, these are some of the best measures an organization can implement.
Help the team recharge their batteries
The best way to start with focus training is to make sure everyone gets a chance to recharge their batteries. Paying some attention to work and life balance serves this purpose. In fact, it’s best if you create a work environment in which work-life balance is addressed.
To create a pro-ballance work environment, consider organizing thematic activities. Short episodes of focus tips or awareness modules. In fact, perhaps you can include a 5-minute interlude in each of your meetings. Cover well-being and balance. Besides, it cannot hurt to raise awareness over the importance of getting enough sleep, for example. Especially considering how many adults are chronically tired.
Managing your attention requires energy. Breaks and energy. Hence, an intense day at work needs to be compensated with relaxation. To that end, foster an office culture that celebrates equilibrium. In effect, your team gets a superior advantage when facing adversity. Ironically, it works like an inoculation.
Infuse happiness into the workplace
Happiness at work can boost creativity, yet somewhat limits concentration. Indeed, research shows that happiness will make people more creative. They will more openly associate concepts and ideas.
They will do better with strategizing even, or finding solutions. Meanwhile, less happiness gives people tunnel vision. It acts like some sort of filter. They become single-minded and do better on some tasks.
At a team level, happiness at work makes a huge difference. After all, we seek ways to improve teams, and happiness at work is a great way to do it. It improves communication and it reduces conflicts. Moreover, it reduces the energy costs of cooperation. And when it comes to team energy, any savings lead to productivity.
Bottom line, it makes sense to take some steps towards creating a happier workplace.
Try to minimize stress and work pressure
It should be obvious by now that work pressure has a negative effect on mostly everything. Yet, on the whole, stress can have some beneficial effects on focus. After all, the neurochemistry gets you into the right gear.
In fact, stress is precisely how you feel when your context demands your undivided attention. To be fair, the first part of being stressed is beneficial. You are experiencing a burst of energy. It carries you over a deadline. And it can motivate. You temporarily become more aware, more present. Time seems to slow down for a bit. There are some advantages to feeling stressed.
We’ve covered a lot about how to deal with stress in this four-parts series about work pressure. Hence, it should be clear. Soon enough there is a price to pay for stress. And it’s costly. The side effects are terrible.
A great way to have your team benefit from the stress-related focus boost is to replace it with something better. What’s better but similar? Excitement. The occasional pep-rally can get your team that burst of energy. Only that without the negative consequences.
7 ways to recover your team from focus loss
This is the moment you feared. Your team is no longer on its set tracks. Good or bad, its trajectory is heading nowhere good. And no amount of anticipation or indirect preparations can compensate. To put it another way, it is time to panic a little.
Still, there are some things you can do. You can prepare a contingency plan and have your team rehearse reactions. You can reorganize your team around projects and use team roles to great effect. Moreover, you can use project milestones to have your team re-focus and take a break.
At the same time, provided that you have the resources, you can rethink and revolutionize team communications. Add to this a coherent visual props strategy and team-developed KPI boards. Overall, you can have your team have the best focus they can have. Here is what you can do:
1. Go back to the drawing board and train focus shifts
It is, after all, one of the three ways your team loses focus. Being on the wrong tracks starts with the strategy. The goals you set and the clever ways you devised to reach those goals. It is a sign of intelligence to adapt. And so is being flexible enough to accept that laid out plans aren’t always the best.
Sure, you might think that the whole team stands to witness how you correct yourself. How you change plans. You might assume, to put it differently, that they will lose trust in your leadership.
Do reconsider that for a few moments. It’s obviously better to reach the right destination by changing tracks. At least, when the alternative is to reach the wrong destination by staying on track.
In fact, adjusting based on progress keeps your team focused on reaching set goals. After all, that’s how navigators navigate. And how Space X can land launched rockets.
This might sound a lot like taking the teams off tracks and redirecting their focus. The main difference is that now you can use a focus-centric approach. One that conserves the energy and redirects it. Much like a promptly executed aikido move.
To prepare for this, use a contingency plan. Expect things to run smoothly, but prepare for the worst-case scenarios. Have your team rehearse their reaction to a redirect. In effect, always include the redirect in your planning. So that when you reroute your team efforts, nothing important is lost.
2. Play team roles and concentrate on team strengths
Some projects can be repetitive, while others may require special skills. Your team has a lot to offer. By regrouping your team, you can determine the best fit for the task at hand.
After all, each person in your team is there for a reason. By now you should know that reason. You have selected and trained your team. You know what strengths each of them has.
So why not play team roles to your advantage? Shift teams around for the task at hand. This is what team focus represents. Allocating team resources for optimal impact.
Team dynamics are a novel approach to getting an edge on a new project. You can use this to do better. Besides it might be clear the case that some team members are bored by routine.
Using team roles allows your team to re-organize and tackle challenges with renewed energy. As for team focus, you stand to gain a whole level of lucidity and attention. Having your teammates feel more engaged pays off with a focus boost.
Besides, this is a great opportunity to try out new paradigms. Give the reins of a project to the introverts, for example. Or try and see what happens when you flatten the hierarchy while working on a project.
3. Signal out strategic milestones on which the team should focus
Goals tell teams what the destination is. But oftentimes there’s a long journey until the destination is reached. And plenty of times, this costs energy and focus.
So why not celebrate milestones? You already have set goals, the destination is clear. Add to this certain times that your team can process as accomplishments. On the whole, milestones serve as breaks. But they also allow team to know the extent of their efforts. How long they have to focus. How far.
Dosing your strength is the type of method most athletes use. You don’t go ahead and sprint for a marathon. Nor do you pace yourself in a sprint. Setting milestones is important because it lets your team pace itself.
And, in effect, you have an overall better energy expenditure. With the result that all the checkpoints get hit with some energy to spare.
But there is more to celebrating milestones. After all, people can be passionate about work. Many people like their work, and this goes beyond enjoying what they do. Project milestones are, to many, personal milestones. Like that friend that shares on social media how her work helped define the latest version of the Ubuntu Budgie. Professional and personal milestones blend together to motivate focus.
4. Refresh team communications
There are three problematic levels you need to act on. To be sure, team communications are crucial to how teams focus.
First of all, your own communication need to be clear, transparent, and effective. Your message needs to reach its destination and be clearly understood. Not communicating properly will take your team out of focus. They will struggle with understanding what you mean. In similar fashion, there is a risk that they will understand different things.
Secondly, you must ensure that team communications are clear and transparent on the whole. And here traditional solutions are subpar to what the latest tech has to offer. Imagine that you can improve team communications while intelligently protecting your team from distractions. You get to preserve team focus in one swift move.
Lastly, when it comes to focus, team communication is crucial in one key regard. Interruption management. Thousands of hours of productivity are lost to unplanned interruptions. Teams everywhere suffer because of interruptions. By definition, an interruption is a disruption of focus. Imagine being close to a brilliant solution to a problem, only to have that idea scattered away.
Some interruptions, however, are a necessary evil. Fire alarms, for example, are urgent and essential. Emails about ordering pizza for the team are not. A great feature of enhanced team communications is having AI preselect which interruptions are important and relevant.
5. Step into the after-hours to re-energize
Modern work has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The separation between time spent at work and the after-hours is ambiguous.
On a more profound level, we cannot help but ponder upon work-related matters. Long-away from work we get insights, ideas, inspiration. And they are all work-related. This is why breaks are beneficial, and vacations can be truly transforming. Neuroscience confirms, a part of us is working non-stop, even when enjoying down-time.
Hence, plan accordingly. If work steps out into life, potentially try and balance this out. Take your team out for various non-work events. Milestones are a good reason to celebrate. Have your team relax and enjoy each other off-work too. It builds team morale.
In addition, your team gets a chance to vent. Together, as a group, a unit. They can chat-away various tensions. Perhaps unite against a common obstacle. Indeed, having the whole team spend time outside of work is a great way to re-energize.
This is one of the main reasons why taking the whole team to a weekend training is so beneficial. It gets everyone re-energized and focused. After all, balancing life and work can go two ways.
6. Re-think meetings and how they burn team focus
Your first instinct when a team loses focus is to organize a meeting. Have them all go through a session in which they’re reminded what the goals are. Reports are asked for and delivered, presentations are required. It all builds to quite a bit of overhead. And it is precisely what you do not want.
To emphasize, your first instincts are not wrong. What makes the difference, however, is how you put them to use. There are so many ways to do the wrong thing with meetings.
Most often, meetings are poorly used to manage teams. They happen too frequently, and purposefully. And most people simply hate those boring meetings. So, think twice before setting up one. Or use smart meetings instead and avoid a lot of the most common issues. Better yet, read this ultimate meetings guide to learn how to do that.
What’s important to realize is that meetings can do a lot more harm than good. It really depends on how focus depletion occurred. But more importantly, it really does matter what you do in the meeting.
Imagine for a second that you use the meeting time for a team break. You spend one hour and have everyone relax. You can use a mock-meeting. Ask your team to come up with a solution for world hunger or near-light travel. Of course, you can’t expect actual solutions. But much like stretching for the body, this allows your team to re-energize.
7. Use focus-declarative visual props
Listing all goals on a board is a great way to rally up teams. Go one step further and have your team come up with key performance indicators. Now display them and watch your team motivate itself. Their focus will undoubtedly follow.
Key performance indicators are not a new thing. From client acquisition rates to new contacts rates to sales volume per location, the concepts are not novel.
Businesses have long compared pricing against competitors, or existing client engagement, by whichever means available at the time. In fact, many organizations today are focused on metrics such as employee satisfaction or employee retention.
But merely installing a KPI Board will be quite a soulless experience. Instead, have your team come up with whatever metrics they consider relevant. What they want to follow, and how to best compound them. Let’s be frank, KPI are mostly 7th grade math. There is no level of complication that’s hard to follow.
But the effect of having them displayed can be powerful. Moreover, having the team develop your KPIs is even more powerful. A simple training session with a KPI -knowledgeable expert will do the trick. Once your team sets the KPIs, they will start being results-oriented.
Aside from KPIs, you can still use visual props for other items. One trick that works, especially in meetings, is to have a white board available at all times. Already we know that presentations using white boards boost team focus. At least when compared to regular slideshows.
One final note
Human focus is a great challenge, and team focus is trickier. To say nothing of technology, that acts bot as a distraction and focus-enabler. Your team can lose focus in several ways, even before becoming a team or working on a project.
There are many solutions to this issue. Many of them require that you forego assumptions about work, life and how teams operate. Some of them, however, make a lot of intuitive sense.
What you need to realize is that focus is a fast-burning resource. It is renewable and it is trainable. To make sure your team stays focused at all times, you need to take care of everything at the right time. Starting with recruitment and on-boarding and finalizing with organizing teams from planning to reaching goals. The benefits are clear. Errors can be diverted, discoveries can be made. Overall happiness can increase. Ultimately, focus makes all the difference.