Summary

 

In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. Interruptions can be a significant cause of burnout for team members, leading to decreased productivity and morale. However, in leadership, one of the leader’s primary roles is to “Protect the Core,” or in other words, protect your team from interruptions and burnout.  Protect the Core is about shielding your team from interruptions that distract them from focusing on their core priorities or responsibilities.  It's about watching out for their well-being.  It's a double edged sword actually.  An effective leader, protects their core team, and by doing so, protects the core responsibilities of the team at the same time.

 

Here are ten steps a leader can take to “Protect the Core”: 

 

Click on any of the ten steps to learn more information about it.

  1. Set clear goals and expectations
  2. Use project management tools
  3. Establish a communication plan
  4. Encourage breaks
  5. Provide resources for stress management
  6. Encourage open communication
  7. Provide alternative work arrangements, not necessarily working from home
  8. Minimize meetings
  9. Celebrate successes
  10. Monitor for signs of burnout


 

Ten Steps to protect your team from interruptions and burnout

 

1.  Set clear goals and expectations:
One of the best ways leaders can protect their team from interruptions is to set clear goals and expectations for everyone. When team members know what they need to accomplish and when they need to do it, they can work more efficiently and stay focused on their tasks. Leaders can also set expectations for how team members should communicate with one another, such as what times of day are best for meetings, collective focus times, or when it's appropriate to interrupt someone's work.

 

A common mistake a leader can make is to assume that all their team members understand their goals and the expectations of them. Instead, when the team is under pressure or the leader suspects that team members are feeling overwhelmed, they should start by reviewing individual team members’ goals to ensure they are, in fact, the current priority.  Often the need to change priorities can go undetected as the team member may be unaware of the priority change.  In addition, a review of expectations helps ensure everyone is aligned on what needs to be done and when and what doesn’t. Things can get lost in the shuffle, and tasks that were once important may no longer be necessary and can be stopped, or at the very least, can be paused for some time.

 

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2.  Use project management tools
Project management tools can be beneficial for reducing interruptions and keeping everyone on track. These tools allow team members to communicate about projects, assign tasks, and track progress without constantly interrupting one another. Using these tools enables team members to stay focused on their work and reduce interruptions from others.

 

A daily huddle board is a visual management tool used by teams to quickly and easily communicate updates, progress, and issues related to a specific project or process. The board is typically displayed in a common area where all team members can easily access it at any time.

 

The huddle board usually consists of several sections or columns, each representing a different aspect of the project or process being tracked. These sections may include:
 

  • To-Do: This section lists the tasks that need to be completed during the day and who is responsible for each job.
  • In Progress: This section lists the tasks currently being worked on, along with any notes or comments about the status of each job.
  • Completed: This section lists the tasks completed during the day.
  • Issues/Blockers: This section lists any problems or issues preventing progress and includes information about who is responsible for addressing each issue.
  • Metrics: This section may include charts, graphs, or other data visualizations that track key performance indicators (KPIs) related to the project or process.

During the daily huddle, team members gather around the board to review progress, identify any issues or blockers, and discuss necessary adjustments or next steps. This brief daily meeting helps ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.  The leader needs to tackle any barriers beyond the team member's control that prevent them from accomplishing their priorities.

 

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3.  Establish a communication plan
Communication is essential for any team, but it's crucial to establish a plan for how and when team members should communicate with one another. For example, the leader might set specific times of day for team meetings or establish a protocol for how team members should communicate urgent issues. Establishing a communication plan can help reduce interruptions and ensure everyone is on the same page.

 

Part of a team communication plan should include establishing some guidelines or team code of conduct around when people can be interrupted.  Simple visual cues as simple as coloured paper or sticky notes to indicate when someone can be interrupted work very effectively.  For example, green paper means ‘come on in’ or open for interruptions; yellow may mean focused work, only interrupt if it cannot wait, and red meaning do not interrupt unless it is an absolute emergency.  It is also essential to clearly define what cannot wait and what is an absolute emergency.  Another simple example is if someone has their headset on, they should not be interrupted.

 

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4.  Encourage breaks
Taking breaks throughout the day is essential for preventing burnout and increasing productivity. Leaders should encourage team members to take breaks and step away from work when needed. This could mean taking a short walk, grabbing coffee, or simply stretching. By taking breaks, team members can recharge their batteries and return to work more focused and energized.

 

Research indicates that humans need a mental break every 90 to 120 minutes.  Setting a timer on a cell phone or another electronic prompt effectively reminds you that you need to step away for a few minutes, re-energize, and regroup.

 

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5.  Provide resources for stress management
Stress is a significant contributor to burnout, so it's essential to provide resources for stress management. This could mean offering meditation or yoga classes, providing access to mental health services, or simply encouraging team members to care for themselves. A simple team stretch throughout the day or a group walk at lunch is very easy to do.  By supporting team members' mental health and wellbeing, leaders can help prevent burnout and keep everyone on track.

 

Rather than asking team members if they are keeping busy or even the general how they are doing, ask them if they have adequate time to think and plan.  Unfortunately, poor cultural norms sometimes prevent team members from admitting they are overworked or overwhelmed.  By asking them if they have adequate time to think and plan, a leader is likely to get a more accurate response to the team members' current workload and state of mind.  A leader needs to create a culture and environment where not only will their team tell them they have too much work, but the leader rewards them for doing so.  This means the leader has to be intentional about their questions and responses.

 

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6.  Encourage open communication
Encouraging open communication among team members can help prevent interruptions and reduce stress. When team members feel comfortable talking to one another, they're less likely to interrupt one another or feel like they're working in isolation. So leaders need to encourage their team members to share their thoughts and feelings and provide a safe and supportive environment for open communication.

 

A leader should model open communication by being transparent and honest with their team. Share information openly and quickly, and encourage others to do the same.  Ensure that all team members are respectful of each other and that everyone's ideas and opinions are valued.  When conflicts arise, and they will occur during challenging times, address them quickly and fairly. Encourage team members to work through conflicts together and find solutions.

 

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7.  Provide alternative work arrangements, not necessarily working from home
A potentially touchy subject these days, however, flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible schedules, can be beneficial for preventing interruptions and reducing stress. By offering team members more flexibility in their work arrangements, a leader can help them better manage their time and reduce interruptions from outside sources. This can also help prevent burnout by giving team members more control over their work-life balance.

 

If remote work is not an option, create a quiet space for team members to work in. This could be a private office or a designated quiet area where team members can focus on their work without distractions.  The cafeteria outside break times can often be an ideal place to escape interruptions!  Sometimes a change of location can be as good as a rest. 

 

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8.  Minimize meetings

Meetings can be a significant source of interruptions and distractions, leading to burnout. Minimize the number of meetings, and keep them short and focused. Encourage team members to attend only the meetings that are essential for their work.  Let them know it’s ok to decline a meeting if it is not essential to their priorities.  It is also important to establish what is and is not deemed essential while maintaining respect and professionalism when declining meeting requests. 

 

Implementing a meeting standard duration of 20 or 50 minutes is a great way to improve meeting efficiency and reduce the burden on your team members.  Learn more about this in our article Time Saving Tip!

 

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9.  Celebrate successes
Finally, it's important to celebrate the team's successes and recognize their hard work. When team members feel appreciated and valued, they're more likely to stay motivated and focused. Celebrating successes can also help prevent burnout by reminding team members of their impact and why their work is important.
 

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10.  Monitor for signs of burnout

Regularly check in with team members to assess their workload and stress levels. Look for signs of burnout, such as decreased motivation, productivity, and absenteeism. Take action to address burnout when it is identified, such as reducing workload or providing additional support.
 

Protecting the Core from interruptions and preventing burnout requires a multifaceted approach. However, by following and implementing these ten steps, leaders can create a supportive and productive environment for their team members, significantly reducing the risk of burnout.

 

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