Good resources for managing team members who may have ADHD?
April 17, 2020 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm in an informal project management and mentoring role, where one of my team members has ADHD. What are your favorite resources or other tips for managing people with these abilities and challenges?

I am not formally a manager, or even a project manager, but I'm a senior individual contributor in my job as a software person. Because we don't have a lot of PMs around, I've been asked to fill in that role for a medium-sized project that's just getting started. I.e., scoping work, keeping track of deliverables, reporting status up to management, etc. I've done this kind of informal PM work before, and while it's not my favorite part of the job, I know I can do it.

Two of the engineers they've assigned are both relatively new to the job (1-2 years out of college), so I've been asked to do some informal mentoring as well. Again -- I've that before, and AFAICT I've done ok with it. So far still in my comfort zone.

The new-to-me part is that one of the two new folks has ADHD. As in, she talks about it openly at work, wears ADHD buttons on her backpack, and sometimes retweets @ADHD_Alien with "it me". She also has... noticeable ADHD behaviors at work? As in, she frequently seems easily distractible, sometimes seems to bounce between tasks very quickly, but has also been known to sit down and calmly write a few hundred lines of code before lunch.

I've worked with teammates with ADHD before, but AFAIK I've never been responsible for mentoring them or keeping track of their tasks. To a first approximation, I can use the same strategies I would with any other junior teammate, but I'm not sure if that's the right way to approach this? I'd like to help her develop a bit in her role, and make sure we get the project done, but I don't want to fuck it up.

Metafilter folks: do you have any resources you've found helpful when managing ADHD folks? Do you have experience -- especially as the person being managed! -- and tips for what to do? Or what not to do?

(And of course, for added difficulty, we are doing all this over Zoom in the age of COVID...)
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind to Work & Money (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Step 1 would be to ask her directly and privately if there are particular things that you could do that might be helpful. As someone with ADHD and also a former manager, it would have been super swell if any project managers or bosses I have had approached me and discussed it with me as part of the same team rather than approaching any issues or concerns that they had in a top-down kind of way.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:13 AM on April 17, 2020 [9 favorites]

I am not suggesting that you agree to anything that this employee might suggest but merely approach her with a sense of curiosity by explaining that you have been tasked to take on this role and then asking with an open heart if she has certain preferred ways of working or needs particular forms of support that she does not currently have.

Ask her if there’s anything that she wants you to understand about how she works given her ADHD. It’s possible that she will do her job extremely well and you won’t have any need to monitor her any more than you need to monitor the other person. It’s also possible that she might be super effective but also do things in a way that you did not necessarily expect. As a manager, I was always way more goal oriented than process oriented. I didn’t really care how people got their work done as long as they got it done. But some offices are very different and the process stuff matters a lot to them. And that can cause a fair amount of friction for some of us.

(Also, if this role is going to be a huge pain in the ass for you, feel free to ask both of these people you are monitoring or supporting or whatever for what you need as well so you don’t end up being super resentful. Just a thought.)
posted by Bella Donna at 9:18 AM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Bella Donna, this is great feedback, thank you! I do plan to ask both of these folks if they have any preferred working styles or skills they wanted to work on for the next few months, which I've done for other mentoring in the past. But I haven't been certain if it's at all appropriate to mention or address my colleague's ADHD directly.

Also, if this role is going to be a huge pain in the ass for you, feel free to ask both of these people you are monitoring or supporting or whatever for what you need as well so you don’t end up being super resentful.

Oops, I didn't mean it to come across that way! To be clear, I like mentoring, and find PM work mildly tedious but manageable, but it's not a massive pain. I was mostly trying to convey that this is not part of my regular job but also not too unfamiliar.

(And with those clarifications, I'll step back and not threadsit.)
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

QUIET. I have ADD and even with medication I often have trouble hearing/processing if there's background conversations happening. I hear everything all at once.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 AM on April 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm a developer with ADHD and I agree with all of the above.

The biggest structural thing I've found to be supportive at work are daily team standups. They help me keep track of my work and motivate me on the days when looking out the window is so much more appealing than coding. We report what we did yesterday, what we're doing and what's we're doing next. If you're using Agile methodology then you're already doing this, of course, but you can have a standup without Agile.

I wasn't a fan when I first encountered them but I've come around and now don't know how I would do my job without them. Aside from the daily accountability they add, standups are also good for giving everyone visibility to into what others are doing and for providing a reference point for expectations for progress. My ADHD manifests as spaciness and I lose track of things that are going on around me, so standups provide a valuable check-in.

Of course, you want these meetings to be short and neutral, and make it very clear the purpose just to check in and isn't to micromanage anyone. In the past I worked with a bad PM who used to standups to berate and discipline developers, which made for a pretty toxic work atmosphere and ensured that I often overstated my progress - it was a bad scene. But since you're asking this question you probably won't do that.
posted by smartyboots at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am a programmer with ADHD. I worked in a cubicle in a mezzanine in an open office environment.

A few things that made it bearable:

-having the ability to dim the lights in my cubicle
-high cubicle walls, not having to see any movement in my periphery and I could get up & stretch & wiggle when I needed to
-was allowed to come in a few hours before everyone else so I had 2 hours of near-total quiet
- the office had a general culture of "don't disturb the programmers" & used instant messaging for almost all communication. Knowing I would not be startled or interrupted helped me relax & focus

Even so, I still couldn't make it work. I would have stayed if I had my own quiet office with no humming lights or fans going off & on.

As far as managing goes, I did not have a proper diagnosis at the time but I know that frequent honest feedback would have kept me better moored. And little zaps of reward (compliments, encouragement) would have been incredibly motivating for me. I also appreciated having some palate-cleansing-type work I could switch to when I was feeling burnt out with my main project.

You should work together to come up with a plan of action on what to do if they are drifting. I am a big proponent of collaboratively coming up with short concise code-phrases like: You overloaded? Need a pep talk? etc.

I knew that my bosses had an understanding of ADHD beyond the inattentive part that would be the cherry on top.

Thanks for considering your employees in this way!
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 11:49 AM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

As a software developer with ADHD for the last 20+ years, I can say the things that have helped are:

1. Short feedback cycles

2. Pairing

3. Stimulants
posted by muddylemon at 11:51 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

As someone with ADHD, may I say, please don't say anything ever, that starts out "Well, why don't you just...", as in "Why don't you just not look at those distracting web sites?" or "Why don't you just sit down and do it?" or "Why don't you just ignore it?" or "Why don't you just pick one thing and do it already?".

Like, if I could, I would, dude. You don't need to say out loud what I say inside my head all the time anyway.

Just by asking this question, it's obvious you are a much more empathetic person than my bosses, though.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:57 PM on April 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

I’m not a programmer or a manager, but as an employee with ADHD, I can’t favorite muddylemon enough.

I haven’t told anyone that I have ADHD, but my current manager’s style has really helped me. Full disclosure: his style does not work at all for some people; our team is pretty unique. But maybe you can use some of it.

- he tends to assign me to initiate projects, and then shifts them to someone else (I bring a lot of energy to things that are new to me, and struggle to follow through). This works because some of my team is the opposite and prefers to work an projects after the big questions have been answered.

- he assigns me to “emergency” projects.

- he keeps everyone informed on big picture stuff from the higher-ups

- he gives me a degree of freedom to go down some rabbit holes that are peripherally related to our work - they often pay off down the road
posted by Kriesa at 6:24 AM on April 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Consider getting them a subscription to focus@will. Even for someone without ADHD, it really helps organize the day into sprints of highly focused work. Another tip is to not set more than 3 priorities daily.
posted by metasunday at 7:56 AM on April 18, 2020

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