When your team at work isn’t working as a team

I saw something like this at the BBC a couple of times:

If your team deals with important issues and team members have strong views on those issues, you can end up in a deadlock. When that happens, people dig into their own preferred solutions, operating from a unilateral control mindset where everyone believes that he or she understands the situation and is right, and that those who disagree just don’t understand the situation and are wrong. When all team members are thinking and acting this way, it creates a vicious reinforcing cycle. The more people try to prevail, the more people stand their ground, and the less likely it is that the team will ultimately resolve anything.

How to Break Through Deadlock on Your Team – Roger Schwarz, Harvard Business Review (7 July 2015)

I admit I read that and thought oh, bless. It assumes everyone on the team wants the best for the group, that the only difference is in how they think it should be done. In this positive kind of world there are no people out for themselves, nobody who sees this job as a temporary stepping stone to a better one if they come out looking good.

So I’m not recommending you follow every piece of advice in this boy scout kind of article but this is Harvard Business Review, they ought to know what they’re doing, so I am saying you should read the full piece.

The short answer is that talking to everyone and learning what brings them to their conclusions can help. It can, it’s true. Firing a few people focuses the mind too.

Busy doing nothing – official

It’s possible that you cannot clear any time in your day to do nothing. It’s entirely possible. But Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, says he does precisely this and that it is a boon for him.

If you were to see my calendar, you’d probably notice a host of time slots greyed out but with no indication of what’s going on. There is no problem with my Outlook or printer. The grey sections reflect “buffers,” or time periods I’ve purposely kept clear of meetings.

In aggregate, I schedule between 90 minutes and two hours of these buffers every day (broken down into 30- to 90-minute blocks). It’s a system I developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think.

At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said “no” to. But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.

The Importance of Scheduling Nothing – Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn blog (3 April 2013

Read the full piece for the details of why he does this and exactly how it has helped.

Hat tip to the Sydney Morning Herald for mentioning this today.

Work in 90-minute bursts for best effect*

*One caveat: I found I work better in hour-long chunks. Many folk do 20 minutes on, 20 off, and so forth. But the thing is to do it in concentrated blocks of time and maybe 90 minutes is a good one.

The theory boils down to the fact that we can’t increase the hours in the day, but we can increase the energy with which we make the most of those hours. Taking short, scheduled breaks throughout the day rejuvenates and restores us physically and mentally, helping us plow through those assignments and to-do lists in a third of the time.

The coolest take away from the article concerns what I now call “work blocks.” In short, after that 90 minutes of work, our bodies and minds need a break. But our 9-5 (or 7-7) work culture demands focus for much, much longer blocks of time, so many of us fight that urge to break by filling up the mug with more coffee, rubbing our eyes and refocusing on the screen.

No more.

Inspired by [New York Times writer Tony] Schwarz and the studies he cited, I created a Daily Schedule that broke up my day into 90-minute Work Blocks, separated by 30 minute Breaks and, in the middle of my day, a 2-hour lunch. I know some of you just spit your coffee out. But you read that right. I take a 2 hour lunch to get a long run or workout in, eat and read from a book or write a few lines in my journal.

During the 30 minute breaks I read, clean, walk to the post office and complete those little, once distracting tasks that now actually kill two birds with one stone. Sometimes, if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, I’ll even knock off for a cat nap.

Do Less = Do More: The Art of Being Creative and Productive – Chase Jarvis, own blog (27 March 2013)

As always, the full piece is worth a read: particularly so this time, I think, as I just got rather absorbed reading it. Hat tip to 99U.