'Simon, what's your biggest challenge?' I asked. He was having a follow-up coaching session after a half-day's training.
'I think I'd call it delegation,' he replied. 'I seem to be interrupted all day long with team members wanting help. I don't want to send them away - I know we have to be available for our team - but how do I ever get a decent chunk of work done?'
Simon is a fairly senior manager in a large organisation. The open floor on which he was located had a quiet buzz. Many people were working at their desks, a few quiet meetings were being held at work stations and some staff were walking around. However, as open plan offices go, it seemed to be reasonably productive.
Interruptions plague most people in business today. We've come out of the dark ages where bosses never communicated anything to their underlings, through the development of open communication and empowerment, to the point where many people feel they have to 'be available' all day.
Sadly, many go home every night frustrated by the myriad interruptions that block them from attending to their real work.
So where does delegation fit in here? Being 'there for your staff' 100% of the time is not good management. In fact, it causes bottlenecks, frustration, low morale, and will block your staff from learning and developing their own skills.
1. Encourage everyone in the team to have at least one lengthy chunk of uninterruptable time per day to work on high-value work - a minimum of an hour. You might call it Red Time or a Power Hour.
2. For anyone who needs regular assistance, have a quick meeting early in the day so they can get on with their work. Then encourage everyone to save up as many questions as they can and bring multiple questions less frequently rather than each query as it arises. And you need to extend the same courtesy to them. If you're a team leader, you're probably interrupting your colleagues too.
Tips on how to manage your Power Hour:
• Put up a signal that colleagues recognise as 'Do Not Disturb'.
• Take work to a quiet room.
• Shut a door if you're lucky enough to have one.
• Book a meeting room.
• Is there an empty training room or board room?
• When someone with an office is off-site, work at their desk. People won't know where to find you.
• Go to an off-site café with your laptop.
• Work from home for an hour or so in the morning and drive in when the morning traffic has eased. As long as you've got a suitable home environment you'll get a lot achieved in those first few hours.
3. And one other related solution: If competent people keep interrupting you with queries they should know, ask them to bring two solutions with every question. If you're too quick to supply the answer you encourage laziness and dependency. It's human nature to take the easy road, so why not ask - saves thinking!