Stay On Track: Keeping Your Team Focused

Jan 07, 2014 1 Min Read

It’s the job of a team leader to make sure the group functions as a well-oiled machine.

His/her job entails them foreseeing any hiccups that may arise, and motivating team members to go on, stay focused on the task at hand, and together, join forces to achieve the goal of each project.

How can a leader ensure that his or her team remain focused and work well together on the task assigned to them?

Daniel Goleman, renowned author on emotional intelligence argues in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence that directing attention to where it needs to go is a primal and essential task of leadership.

Leaders are responsible for directing their own attention, but also that of their people.

Goleman believes that there are three specific kinds of focus that make the difference between mediocre and high performance:

· Attention on oneself (self-awareness, letting you manage your inner world well);

· Attention on others (empathy that allows to build effective relationships); and

· Attention on the larger systems in which an organisation operates (directing you towards the strategy that will work best). “A leader’s field of attention – that is, the particular issues and goals she focuses on – guides the attention of those who follow her, whether or not the leader explicitly articulates them.

“People make their choices about where to focus based on their perception of what matters to leaders.

“This ripple effect gives leaders an extra load of responsibility: they are guiding not just their own attention, but to a large extent, everyone else’s,” writes Goleman.

He goes on: “Take, as a case in point, strategy. An organisation’s strategy represents the desired pattern of organisational attention, on which everyone should share a degree of focus, each in their particular way.

“A given strategy makes choices about what to ignore and what matters: Market share or profit? Current competitors or potential ones? Which new technologies? When leaders choose strategy, they are guiding attention.”

It boils down, therefore, to how leaders set and communicate strategies. “And once the strategic choice gets made, it needs to be communicated with passion and skill, drawing on cognitive and emotional empathy. But those personal skills alone will flounder if they lack strategic wisdom,” asserts Goleman.

Let’s look at how leaders can direct the attention of their people through their strategy setting and communication.

Since people tend to do what they feel is important for their leader, they are likely to concentrate on the goal that they feel is important for the organisation – and their leaders – at a specific point in time.

Clarity in strategy is easier said than done – it requires, for starters for the leadership to attain the three kinds of focus that Goleman talks about.

After all, a leader that cannot understand him/herself first, and the world and system in which they operate, cannot set a reasonable strategy for success.

Knowledge and understanding of these two elements is therefore essential to setting a clear, precise strategy.

Courage is another element that is needed in order to redirect focus when necessary.

The world around us is changing faster than ever before, and it takes a leadership team with courage to make decisions to shift and redirect the strategy when and where necessary to keep up at the very least, and ideally stay ahead with the competition.

The team is looking for such a diversion from the management/leadership – it is highly unlikely that the people will do this on their own.

Explore and experiment

“Any business school course on strategy will tell you about two approaches: exploitation and exploration.

“Some people – and some businesses like RIM (Research in Motion) – succeed through a strategy of exploitation, where they refine and learn how to improve an existing capacity, technology, or business model.

“Others find their road to success through exploration, by experimenting with innovative alternatives to what they do now.”

This is Goleman’s explanation of Blackberry’s failure to change its strategy on time and keep up with the competition.

A leader who is slow in foreseeing this change and redirecting the attention of his/her team towards a new strategy, eventually has to pay the circumstances, just like Blackberry is doing for the last four years.

“Those who exploit can find a safer path to profits, while those who explore can potentially find a far greater success in the next new thing – though the risks of failure are greater, and the horizon of payback further away. Exploitation is the tortoise, exploration the hare.

“The best decision-makers are ambidextrous in their balance of the two, knowing when to switch from one to the other. They can lead switch-hitting organisations, which are, for instance, good at seeking growth by simultaneously innovating and containing costs – two very different operations.”

And the trick lies here – paying attention to what goes on around you, and knowing when to play it safe and stick to your initial strategy, and when it’s time to move on and adapt with the times.

So how else can leaders direct the attention of their people? Daniel H. Straub, professor of Leadership Studies at Geneva College gives us a couple more pointers.

> Be a servant

One, is servant leadership. Straub argues that making yourself helpful to your team rather than bossing them around and expecting them to deliver, leads to long term effectiveness.

Not only does it allow your team to run smoothly, with everyone working together making the most of each members’ strengths, it also allows you to pay attention to all the details – those tiny pieces of information that you would otherwise miss.

That information may be crucial in allowing you to have an insight that may lead to a change in your strategy and focus. Never underestimate the power of helping your team.

> Over-communicate

In addition, Straub talks about communication and information sharing. As mentioned earlier, clarity is crucial when it comes to directing the attention of your people and keeping them on track.

Especially so in times of crises, but necessary at all times, it is important to over-communicate with your team.

Part of that, of course, entails practicing much of the skill of listening too.

Instead of just spreading information, spend time listening to the thoughts and concerns of your team – you never know what useful insights you may gather this way.

“Real communication is two-way,” as Straub puts it. Put in the effort, therefore, and see how you can redirect your team’s attention by something as simple as that. With the joys of promotion to a leadership position always comes much bigger responsibility. And this responsibility entails ensuring that the team remains focused on what they need to be focusing on.

It is the duty of a manager/leader to encourage and nurture this focus, and it requires him or her to know him/herself first, know the conditions they are operating in, and engage with their people constantly in order to maintain a clear, as well as current message to them.

It is not so difficult, if you think about it, however reflection is a major part of it and clarity is definitely key.

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Eva was formerly the Research & Development leader at Leaderonomics. Prior to that, she was an editor at Today, she is the Product leader of Happily, an engagement app at Leaderonomics Digital. She believes that everyone can be the leader they would like to be, if they are willing to put in the effort and are curious to learn along the way, as well as with some help from the people around them.

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