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What distracts teams at work & how to get their focus back?

An interview with a Team-Ninja: Mr. Malhar Barai, hosted by Prasanjit Das

This interview is an effort to understand how industry stalwarts have grown to manage teams and incase a team diverges from the path, how to get them back!

Welcome to the very First Interview at ‘Man Vs Time’ Blog by Gridle, and who better a Guest for the topic than Malhar Barai!

About Malhar:

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Malhar is a very active personality among the Digital Marketing world. He leads the marketing for Tech, Media & Entertainment Vertical and has formerly led Digital Strategy at Tech Mahindra (Market Cap: $ 4B; 100K+ professional; 90 countries). He specialises in Integrated Marketing Campaign, leveraging SEO, SEM & branding. He is responsible for strategising and executing integrated campaigns utilising owned, earned & paid media.

And yes, this comes very personally from me; Malhar is highly appreciated & followed online for his immense efforts in sharing knowledge about Digital Marketing as a co-host of #SEOTalk Twitter Chat and India’s only live video based Blab2Learn show.

His vast experience of working with Teams, has motivated us to invite him for our First Interview.

Prasanjit Das: So, Malhar; in your Professional Career Span of almost 16 years, what minimum & maximum size of teams have you handled (Including both internal & external teams)? And how has been the experience?

Malhar Barai: The smallest size is being me myself. But over the years I have seen team size growing to 20+ with varying levels of experience. Like every team, we had our good and bad days, but having taken care of some basic interpersonal issues, we have had a strong bond.

The key challenge in a big team while handling multiple level of experience is managing expectations.
It’s like a big fat family, some member might always be disgruntled. A little tact goes a long way in handling such a member.

PD: So, there might be phase when things don’t go as planned. Delays, quality issues, responsibility issues, ego issues and many other things. Basically the ‘Team is Distracted, they are Defocused’. And you have to ask yourself ‘Why’? ‘Why is the Team Defocused?’ What could be the reasons of ‘Teams getting Defocused’?

MB: I have observed, there is not one reason for them being distracted.

There is always a nagging issue that manifests into a bigger problem resulting in few members feeling like that

Having a team in the 20–30 year old bracket, most of the times the problems are –

1. Larger than life goals — Some of their peers could be earning a few more bucks or some colleagues have an opportunity to visit different countries. Those small things keep on playing in their mind and more often, they would skip their own work and keep looking for such opportunities.
2. Emails, Meetings, Conference calls — There are too many non-productive emails, meetings, conference calls in our office environment. Many of the folks I interview, the question I ask is if they love the amount of meetings and emails and how can we reduce it. Indeed most of them hate it and thinks emails are passe. They ideally would like to prioritise them and use their time effectively
3. Internet, Devices — Internet was supposed to help us! Well, every invention probably had the same intention. But instead what we find is, people often while away their time browsing through non-official communication and getting distracted from their core work.
4. Noisy co-worker — Yes, that’s a reality. Just like we don’t like a noisy neighbour near our house, the same goes at office. They are capable of sucking out a lot of productive time.

PD: Oh Wow, I agree to these. It is very important to make the Team understand the importance of time and align the expectations of the Team. They look very small, but mind it, the consequences are really big as a Team & as an Organisation.

So Malhar, how do you identify the ‘Why’? How do you get to the root-cause of things?

MB: There are various productivity measurement tools today, the most basic being a time-sheet with list of task and amount of time spent. They give enough data to identify who is losing the sheen. Identifying the ‘Why’ is a challenge, because not each of them could be treated in the same way.

But again, something I resort to, is having a non-official talk. Take them outside the workplace, treat/pamper them and then broach the subject. Most of times it works well and I get the desired results.

Personally, I do not believe in escalation and that would be my extreme option.

PD: Aha! So, it is very important to monitor how the time is utilised against some Performance Indicators, and then, as we find the difference, we must resort to a personal & trustworthy communication to identify the real pain-point. That just makes so much sense.

Let’s take a few points of why Teams are defocused, and you tell us how to get their Focus back.

MB: While most of the issues could be solved by being transparent with your team and constantly involving them in decision making.

Something that I learnt from few of my managers is, give them more respect than you think they deserve. In turn, you’ll also get the same from the team. And when you have such a bond, you’ll not have to resort to building policies.

But yes, for something like meetings, conference calls and internet usage — a few basic guidelines are needed. It helps to channelize the efforts in right direction.

For interpersonal communication and office etiquettes, we do resort to few basic training that will help teams in focusing on the task at hand.

As for tools, they should be used for constructive purpose by HR teams and not for reprimanding the members (as we have seen that happen so often).

To cite an example, we normally recruit a bunch of freshers every year and introduce them to the industry. In one particular batch, there were certain bunch of youngsters who still extended the college fun to workplace resulting in delayed deliveries and other escalations. They whiled away their time surfing irrelevant sites, were found around floor pantry or cafeteria and even glued to their devices. So we started engaging with them and found them to be folks with a good career plan and wanting to leverage their experience working with us, but there was a certain disconnect with the organisation culture, lack of interaction with peers. This resulted in them staying cocooned within their own circle of friends and depending on lot of hearsay. So, along with HR team, the team leads and project managers, a decision was made to have them undergo a proper induction in the company and team, a floor buddy assigned for guidance around organisation etiquettes.

We also relied on few tools to keep measuring their productivity — task assignment, collaboration, time surfed, category of sites, limited open access thus ensuring they stay on course.

**PD: True, one can never underestimate the importance of Policies & Processes in an Organisation and a Team. This decreases ambiguity and keeps teams on track. While, a personal touch and work culture adds that extra mojo to the Team and keeps them Focused, Or less distracted, as we say.
**

So any closing statements from you Malhar?

MB: This interview in fact helped me know better about handling team effectively and ensuring they remain focused. I was glad to share some of my own experience and wish it helps others to conquer their demons.

Again, there is no magic bullet to having a result-oriented team. I treat them as family and like we do at family, it’s always a combination of sam-dam-dand-bhed (advice-offer-punish-exploit).

PD: So here we go. We have come to the end of our First Interview of ‘Man Vs Time’ with Malhar Barai, cracking the secret of ‘What Distracts Teams at work? How to get Focus back?’

A Special Thanks to Malhar for his valuable inputs and his time for the interview.

Do follow Malhar on his Twitter handle @MalharBarai and follow us on our Official Gridle Blog

Until next time, it’s a ‘See Ya’ from your host Prasanjit.