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”:
Ten Steps to protect your team from interruptions and burnout
1. Set clear goals and expectations:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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