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Ward Off Interruptions That Kill Team Dynamics Are companies endangering corporate culture even while investing so much to build it?

By Edward G. Brown Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Companies invest a lot to enable their teams to work effectively. Leaders get chosen for their ability to meld cohesive groups. Workers get judged not just by talent but for their ability to work well with others.

Just because teams of people are working together for the same goals, they are not impervious to causing the bane of quality work and job satisfaction: interruptions. Teams are interrupted the same way and often for the same reasons individuals are interrupted: Somebody feels their need trumps the team's time. And they are especially vulnerable to another interruption -- that of a manager who can't resist knowing the whole team is together and therefore interrupts the meeting and its carefully drawn agenda to find out how things are going.

Related: How Much Is the Noise in Your Open Office Costing You?

That's why teams voice the same chorus as individuals often do: "We have too much to do and not enough time to do it!" They are half right. They do have the time if it isn't stolen by interruptions.

What happens when teams are interrupted? They suffer pretty much the same loss of time, motivation and energy as individuals do but multiplied by the head count! Basex Research estimated that $588 billion was lost to U.S. businesses because of interruptions to office work. And interruptions take an equally costly toll on workers' motivation.

This is the downward spiral: There's the interruption that throws team members off task then the loss of momentum due to the work stoppage. Time is wasted reassembling thoughts and resources amid frustration at having to re-create, further dissipating the energy that work thrives on. There's distress and fatigue at having to make up for lost time. All these things can cause errors and trigger a need for doing the task over again -- costing still more time.

How can this be prevented? Teams need to learn to practice the following the skills. These are not natural skills but need to be taught.

Related: Smarten Your Employees' Work Styles -- 5 Ways to Coax Productivity

1. Recognize when the team needs an interruption-free period. It's utopian to suppose that all interruptions can be eradicated, but certain activities are more vulnerable than others: a vexing work problem, a delicate political issue, a critical bonding occasion or a challenge to the team's creative capabilities.

2. Negotiate "time locks." When members of a team agree that they need to work without pause, their leader needs to negotiate "time locks" (protected chunks of time) with those causing interrruptions as well as their managers, persuasively explaining how this is in everyone's interest. This can ensure that members of the team complete the project on time and within budget, delivering the benefits to the company sooner and allowing employees to tackle new assignments more quickly.

Related: 5 Ways to Decrease Interruptions and Increase Productivity

3. Lock in mental focus. Often employees are subject to lapses of concentration. Accustomed to being interrupted, workers can become their own "time bandits." There are proven techniques teams can learn to allow them to stay focused, such as constructive acceptance, visualizing what's deal and positive affirmations.

4. Employ "psychological martial arts." Creating a completely relaxed and focused state of mind, these techniques include meditation, special breathing techniques and positive affirmations. When teams learn these methods, they learn how to empty their mind of all the sources causing loss of focus, whether joyful or distressing. The techniques not only improve the team's performance but they also stay with its members forever.

Plus, teams are apt to enjoy the rewards of working together to protect one another from interruptions and spur on better concentration.

Related: Distractions Killing Your Flow? Try This Method.

Edward G. Brown

Author of 'The Time Bandit Solution' and Co-Founder of Cohen Brown Management Group

 Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of a culture-change management consulting and training firm for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group.  


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