Focusing as a Team: Learning to Love the Process

When focusing together as a team,one of the most important things you can do  is to learn to love the process of what you’re working on–as well as the process of working together itself.

When you think of focusing, you often think of deep concentration–perhaps being in a room alone working on a task, or thinking hard while meditating. In other words, we tend to think of focusing as an individual task that requires silence and being alone. 

This may be partly true (for some tasks), but it also ignores a lot about focus and concentration, especially when it comes to focusing as a team.

Focusing as a team

As we explained in our last post, paying attention means not only focusing on tasks, but also being aware of larger goals and ways of thinking. And especially when it comes to these last two levels, as well as with many tasks, having other people working with us can help us focus even more than we would alone.

A perfect example of this idea at work is brainstorming sessions. When they are done correctly, brainstorming sessions with team members can be much better at coming up with new ideas than just one team member thinking by themselves. In brainstorming sessions, team members can bounce ideas off each other and test each other’s ideas through discussion. 

But as we’ve already hinted at, simply coming together to talk about ideas doesn’t necessarily lead to focusing as a team. There is more that needs to be done so that you and your team can actually take advantage of the benefits of having multiple people working together.

The key to focusing as a team, as we shall see, is enjoying the process–the way that you work together, deciding what goals to achieve, and how you go about achieving them. Leaning into this enjoyment of the process as a whole, instead of looking at just one individual task or role at a time, can allow your team to become stronger and more unified as it continues to work steadily on progressing with its goals.

So in the following blog post we will delve deeper into focus and what it is, especially as it relates to focusing as a team. We’ll also discuss the idea of enjoying the process of teamwork, and work in general, and what it means for individual team members as well as teams.  

How do we focus?

Last time we analyzed the three layers of focus and attention, which can be broadly classified as taska, goals, and thinking. But that analysis emphasizes the what of focus (i.e. what are you focusing on).

There’s another way of analyzing what goes into focus that takes into account the how. Put more simply–how do we go about focusing?

Focus is often described as being not so much about concentration as much as much as it is about making a decision. That is to say, one you decide to do something, it’s generally a lot easier to concentrate on it. And it’s when we don’t want to decide on something that we feel like we can’t focus. 

But there’s another aspect of focus that relates to the idea of “presence”. We concentrate when we are focused on the task, idea or goal at hand; when we are fully in the moment. When we aren’t fully present (when we’re thinking of other things, wondering what’s new on our smartphones, or we aren’t fully committed), that’s when we lose focus or get distracted. 

From this perspective, we can break down focus into three discrete functions; decisions, actions and awareness.  

1. Decisions

Making a decision is one of the keys to focusing your attention. When you make a decision to do something, like let’s say wash the dishes, you are choosing to ignore all the other options of things you could be doing (as we will see below, this doesn’t always mean you will focus though). This in turn allows you to concentrate on the task at hand.

The act of making a decision to do or focus on one thing is also important in of itself because it creates a sense of ownership and responsibility. You are deciding to do this one thing, which makes it now a part of your own life and being, as opposed to something that was decided for you or imposed externally.

When it comes to focusing on teams, decision making is essential for deciding what your team will focus on and do, obviously. But there’s another important lesson here, which is that deciding together and making the decision-making process as collective as possible makes every team member feel more personally involved and responsible for the growth and development of the team.

2. Actions

Once you have decided to do something, you may be able to concentrate on it better, but you still need to actually “do” it. By “actions” here, we don’t just mean tasks or work. Actions could be something like goal-setting or thinking, which are actions at a more cognitive level. 

The actual “doing” could be attributed to willpower, or the motivation. And there’s not always a clear distinction or pause between deciding to do something and doing it. But even when that line is thin, it is still there.

The goal of focusing, especially focusing on teams, is therefore often to decrease the pause between decision and action. It is, to borrow a term from the personal fitness world, to increase your mind-body connection, so that the transition is smooth.

3. Awareness

Lastly, focus involves awareness of what you’re doing. Let’s go back to the example of washing the dishes. You can make a decision to wash the dishes and start washing them, but if you aren’t aware of what you’re doing, you may miss spots, or even hurt yourself. And you certainly won’t be able to correct yourself if you aren’t aware of the mistakes you’ve made, or even that you’ve made them at all.

In other words, you won’t be really focusing on the task, and you won’t be able to accomplish the goal that you set out on–to clean the dishes. So awareness not only helps us to be conscious of what is going on in the moment, and therefore to be more present, but it also shapes how we develop, grow and think afterwards–which determines how we will focus in the future. 

For focusing as a team, this awareness while doing and thinking has multiple levels. There is the individual team members’ awareness as they go about their tasks, the awareness of team members towards each other in their interactions, and the awareness of the team as a whole about what they are doing. 

Putting it all together: Focus = process

Of course, ideally we want all three of these functions to be working in tandem. We touched on this earlier when we talked about how we want our decision-making and actions to be as smooth and continuous as possible. Similarly, we want to be constantly aware while we are deciding and acting, so that we are using all three functions synchronously. The more friction there is between these three functions, the more we have the chance to “lose focus” and go off to do something else.

It might seem difficult to balance all these things at once, but there is a way to make sure that all three functions are working at once: we call it “process”. 

Processes essentially combine all these functions into one. They make it easy to make decisions, act quickly, and remain aware of what’s going on (often by providing a standard or objective as a basis). 

A lot of times though, processes get confused with habits or rules. Certainly, habits and rules can inform processes, but they are not exactly the same thing. Think of something like the “process of artistic creation” for things like writing or composing. This process is probably different for everyone, and yet there are still many things that make it similar–such as creating habits, allowing ideas to form and percolate, and paying respect to the actual techniques of the art (the “craft”). 

Process, therefore, creates a natural flow that we can fall into–one that combines decision-making, acting and thinking. This flow is essentially what focus is all about. And when we learn to “love the process”, we can easily focus and succeed on whatever we put our mind to. This is especially important when it comes to focusing as a team.

Processes on teams

Processes are definitely useful for individuals, but they’re also good for focusing as a team. As a team, you naturally develop processes for working together. But when your team consciously creates processes that are based on the inherent diversity of each members’ skills and ways of thinking, the process of working together becomes even more effective at getting the team to focus on what’s most important.

It’s important to remember that processes can be used for any level of attention, like discussing goals, making tasks more streamlined, or even looking at rethinking any of the processes that you already use. 

Thus, processes are essential for bringing teams together and focusing their attention. They are the backbone of teams–combining multiple opinions, backgrounds and perspectives into one framework that accomplish amazing things.

The key to processes, though, is that they are iterative. That means that they need to be repeated over and over again. With repetition comes the habits and rules that we talked about before, or the formation of a set culture, like those on a team. 

The process of teamwork

If processes can be used for focusing as a team on anything, then they can also be used for focusing as a team on teamwork. In fact, that is the whole purpose behind team building activities, like the ones at Invite Japan. Through the challenges that take teams out of their normal routines, we make teams aware of what’s happening in their teamwork process: how they are making decisions together, acting together, thinking together and developing together.

The process of teamwork, like any other process, helps your team to focus on it and pay attention to it. So when your team wants to focus on teamwork or building a stronger team environment, the best thing to do is to look at the process of how your team is actually working together. And by improving and then repeating that process, you can make lasting impacts on your level of teamwork and success.

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