The 3COze High-Performance Teams process helps colleagues understand one another’s styles and needs and how the differences between teammates can affect team dynamics. This article is the ninth in a series where I explain the differences that might be causing friction between you and your teammates. I’ve included links to the complete series below.

How Do You Manage Your Attention?

Are you the type of person who drives to finish one task before starting another? Do you concentrate your attention on one thing at a time? Does your satisfaction come from seeing things through to completion?

Or are you the type of person who is looking for something novel to grab your attention? Do you get engaged easily? Are you the first to volunteer for the new assignment? Does your satisfaction come from having novel situations to which you can be responsive?

How you and your teammates manage your attention affects your behavior in meetings, your project participation, and your reputation with your boss. Differences in how you respond to what’s going on in your environment can be frustrating and might explain some of the exasperating disconnects that you experience on your team.

For example, think about how you respond to someone raising a new topic in a meeting. Do you become quietly agitated and ask that you finish the first conversation before moving to another? Are you the person your team can count on to close the loop, nail things down, and keep everyone on track? That’s a great contribution to a team!

But being the focused serial processor is only one way to contribute. Other people add value by showing enthusiasm for new ideas and being willing to take risks to change for the better. These folks are attentive and responsive to what’s shifting around them. That’s super important too!

Look at this table and see if you recognize your attention as being drawn more to one task at a time or multitasking. Next, consider how your style impacts your approach to new activities and your relative enthusiasm for finishing what you’ve started versus exploring what’s next.

Table of different attention styles

It’s essential to understand this about yourself. If you are too focused on one thing at a time, you risk coming off as stubborn, stuck, and risk-averse. As a result, you might miss the train as it leaves the station.

In contrast, if you are perennially shifting from one idea to the next without finishing anything, you might get a reputation as someone who’s scattered, spinning, and spread too thin. In this case, you might jump off the train before it’s arrived at the station. Ouch.

Can you think of a relationship where the difference between your styles is causing friction?

Understanding Your Needs

Now, look at the second half of the table, which describes the different environments that people prefer.

Table showing restlessness needs

Craving Predictability

Are you someone who needs predictability and order? If so, you probably need an environment where you can concentrate. I’m guessing that the open office is not your happy place. You need to turn off your notifications and have uninterrupted time to get into a flow.

Another thing that helps you be at your best is when you avoid surprises and have the chance to give input on changes before they come into effect. Feeling like a new responsibility came out of left field will be stressful for you.

Craving Variety

On the other hand, you might be someone who needs lots of variety (it’s the spice of life, after all). If you need variety, you’ll need your manager to tap you for new initiatives coming down the pike. You’re likely also going to raise your hand for new assignments, secondments, or promotions more quickly than others. Getting stuck in a rut or having to continue doing something you’ve already mastered will kill your mojo.

Working Effectively with Others

Here are some things to keep in mind.

For The Focused Types

You might be missing signals that the environment is changing and priorities are changing along with it. Talk with someone you trust to help you decide if you’re sticking with things too long or avoiding changes that might make things better.

Don’t think of the more responsive, variety-seekers as flighty. On the contrary, they’re putting a vital tension on the team and ensuring you don’t miss great opportunities. However, if their tendency to jump from one topic to another is a problem, politely ask if you can get a resolution on the first issue before moving on to the next.

For the Responsive Types

You might be creating a lot of churn and making it hard for your team to get traction. Seek out some feedback to help you differentiate between a healthy amount of variety versus change for the sake of change.

Please don’t make the mistake of belittling the focused order-seekers or seeing them as a drag on progress. They’re adding a little resistance to your forward momentum that might keep you from going off a cliff. If their tendency to focus on one thing to the exclusion of others is an issue, start to seed ideas early and give them a chance to feel they have some control.

Improving Understanding

How you manage your attention will have advantages and pitfalls for your team. With any luck, you’ll have teammates with different styles to balance yours. The key to working effectively together is more awareness of the strengths and gaps of your style and more appreciation of the strengths of others.

My experience is that people at either extreme on this dimension often frustrate one another. And the tricky part is that someone might behave in one way and need the exact opposite. I’m one of them!!

As a consultant and now an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to shift from one thing to the next and fill a day with writing, speaking, facilitating, sending invoices, and paying the bills. I change gears all the time. I’m a “many things at once” gal. But that’s diametrically opposed to the environment I prefer. I like to do one thing immersively for hours. I want opportunities for input rather than things sprung upon me.

The key is to share your preferences with your teammates and to reciprocate by asking them how they would prefer to work.

Other Posts in the Series

Further Reading

Tired of People Being Distracted and Disrespectful?

How far in the weeds are you?

Experts: Check out Adam Grant’s article on Productivity and Attention in the New York Times