In sports, teams spend more time practicing than they do competing.  In business the opposite holds true.  When was the last time that your work team took time out to practice team effectiveness? Teams in the workplace tend to engage in on-the-job training.  This brings to mind the overused analogy of building the plane while flying it.  If sports teams only worked together during competitions and did not practice, the likelihood of a winning season would be very rare.  

Unlike in sports where the competitions are scheduled, in business the competition never stops, unless your team calls aTIMEOUT.  When was the last time your team called a timeout?  A timeout is a valuable opportunity for a team to regroup, to access its performance and to make adjustments.  An effective timeout is typically led by a coach who has been observing the team’s performance.  In business this is a much more difficult task, although not impossible.

Imagine your leadership team having a coach observe the team working for a week or two.  Observing and taking notes on team performance, individual performance and the team dynamic.  In sports “lets go to the tape” is the standard practice of most coaches. In business that doesn’t quite work.  However, in business, teams can take the time to reflect on what is working and what needs to be improved.  This is very tough to do without a timeout.

As an executive coach and a former organizational leader, I am keenly aware of the challenges of calling timeout in business.  Breaking the daily cadence requires a major time commitment, it can be disruptive to operations and can impact service delivery just to name a few of the challenges.  At the same time, I have seen leadership teams make very impactful business breakthroughs as a result of calling timeout.


What does a business team timeout look like?  


t can take on many different forms, but ideally the timeout is called to achieve four goals:
1)  Provide the team an opportunity to reflect on past performance

2)  Allow team members to discuss the team dynamic

3)  Reset the teams strategy, goals and game plan

4)  Allow the team to have fun without having to keep score and to provide team members the opportunity to connect better on a personal level

As a business leader or a team leader you serve the role of player/coach.  That is a difficult role to play.  It is highly uncommon in sports, yet it is the norm in business.  As the player/coach it is your job to recognize your team’s need for a timeout.  Timeouts should be called at least quarterly.

My recommendation for your next timeout is that you hire a coach or facilitator at least two weeks before your next timeout.  Invite them to attend your team meetings, invite them to meet with the individuals on your team and have them engage with your organization.  If they can watch your team in action, they can offer more effective guidance during your timeout.

The Timeout:  

chedule a full day offsite.  Take your team someplace unfamiliar.  You want everyone to be on a level playing field in a location that has very little to do with your daily environment.  A conference center, a golf course clubhouse, a learning center, etc.

Your coach should set the stage for the meeting.  Remember you are a player/coach, for this meeting your jobs is to wear your player hat.  Let the external coach do the coaching.

Sample Agenda:
8-9am             Icebreaker. Overview of the Day. Reason For The Timeout

9-10am          Reflections on team performance- Coaches Observations, team member reactions

10-11am        Start, stop, continue- Explore the team dynamics and propose adjustments

11-12pm        Resetting the team strategy, goals and game plan

1-4pm            Experiential team building activity- A shared fun experience in a risk free environment

4-5pm            Debrief on experiential activity- How to incorporate the learnings into the team dynami

5pm               Wrap up

Most of you reading this article have probably attended a day like this at some point in your career.  If it hasn’t occurred in the past 6 months, it is time to get one scheduled.  While the event may seem trivial, the impact can be significant.  All teams require practice. The key is making the time by showing the leadership required to call TIMEOUT!