How to handle interruptions at the team level

Lukasz Karwacki - Co-Founder & CEO at Sunscrapers

Lukasz Karwacki

20 October 2015, 2 min read

“Interruptions break your workday into a series of work moments. Forty-five minutes and then you have a call. Fifteen minutes and then you have lunch. Before you know it, it’s five o'clock, and you’ve only had a couple uninterrupted hours to get your work done. You can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.” - 37 signals

What are the consequences of interruptions?

  • we work less productively
  • we deliver less value
  • we’re becoming less competitive
  • we can’t compete with the great

We should distinguish two types of disturbances. The first is an interruption happening on individual level (how many times you check your email, what sort of notifications do you get, what are your working hours, where do you work). The second type is handling interruptions at the team level (how do we collaborate, how do we work together as a team). We want to focus on the second type.

How to fight with interruptions?

There’re two strategies of handling interruptions. We can do it through control or through freedom. The path of control is characterised by preventing undesired activities, limit human interactions and rely on rules. The second path tells us to trust individual judgment, create productive environments and rely on work culture and guidelines.

1. Control

  • inexperienced personnel
  • repeatable work
  • clearly-defined solution
  • ‘just do your job’ approach
  • time is most important

2. Freedom

  • people are most important
  • experienced personnel
  • creative work
  • non-trivial problems
  • try to add value’ approach

Before interrupting your teammate, ask yourself:

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it urgent?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • How to contact them?

There are two types of means we can use

The active method requires attention now (IM, conversation/poke, emergency meeting). The passive method gives you a possibility to replay later (Trello, email, planned meeting).

You could treat above questions as a guideline but remember one basic rule: respect time.

This presentation is a part of Sunscrapers’ weekly talks. Slides available here:



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