Daniel Goleman: Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder

Many leaders in large organizations manage global teams. The group may include contract workers, or team members from a merger. Face-to-face interactions aren’t always possible. Getting a group in synch with the project’s goals can be a job in and of itself. As a result of these and other obstacles, managers are often forced to operate in good faith that professionals will act accordingly.

But along the way, there are unfortunate breakdowns. Friction arises from constant missed deadlines, miscommunication, or mismanaged budgets. Managers have a hard time comprehending – or responding to – careless errors from professionals. Such breakdowns are a sign of organizational attention deficit.

Ideally people working as a team are going to be attuned to each other. The star performing teams have the highest harmony, and have certain norms for maintaining that harmony such as:

  • They are very aware of each other strengths and weaknesses.
  • They let someone step into or out of a role as needed.
  • They don’t let friction simmer until they explode.
  • They deal with it before it becomes a real problem.
  • They celebrate wins, and they have a good time together.

This becomes more difficult if people are working at a distance – physically or emotionally. If you have people on a team who don’t tune-in, it lowers the harmony. That is exacerbated by a virtual connection, people working by email who never see each other face-to-face.

Ways to overcome organizational ADD

  1. Meet face-to-face. If possible, get everyone together for a one- or two-day offsite meeting. If you know the other person, you can overcome the distance that the virtual world creates.
  2. Leaders must guide attention. The best leaders sense when and where to shift the collective focus of a team, getting it there at the right time – for example, to capitalize on an emerging trend.
  3. Set clear project goals. Let people know what’s expected, and why their contribution matters in the grand scheme of things.
  4. Resist the “Us versus Them” mindset. Actively look for the common goal between yourself and the other person or team. This helps eliminate any built-in adversarial filter you bring to a project.
  5. Provide sufficient time to get the work done. Many managers believe that they can stimulate creativity by putting people under very tight deadlines. That’s a myth. In fact, across the board in general, people are more creative when they have a little bit of time to explore a problem, reflect on what they’re doing, gather new information, and to talk to people who might have different perspectives, which can be enormously useful.
  6. Unplug. Tech distractions can affect performance and face-to-face communication. Limit the number of screens open on your computer. Turn off your cell phone if you’re under a deadline.


For more on developing organizational and personal focus, listen to my interview with Dr. Relly Nadler and Dr. Cathy Greenberg on Leadership Development News.

Daniel Goleman’s new book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and CD Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence are now available.

His more recent books are The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings (More Than Sound). Leadership: A Master Class is Goleman’s comprehensive video series that examines the best practices of top-performing executives.

Photo: Kiefer pix / shutterstock