When Do You Call Time Out?

February 2, 2018

We spend hours every week in pre-scheduled meetings, but do they always serve the needs of our organizations?

In fast moving, dynamic environments, prescheduled meetings don’t always match the needs of the work being done.

A core principle of good dynamic work design is to match the type of work to the way it’s done. Routine work can be done in cubes or on assembly lines, but thorny problems often require the “big brain” of a larger group. The key challenge is to design a system for quickly moving a piece of work to the right venue to get it done.

To see this principle in action, watch how NFL coaches use timeouts. Coaches start with a set of well-practiced plays and a game plan for a given opponent. They use the time between quarters and halftime (prescheduled meetings) to check in with players and make adjustments. But sometimes prescheduled meetings are not enough, you can’t afford to wait that long--you need to call “time out.” Time outs are short and sharply focused on the problem at hand.

You can’t escalate every issue, but rapid group problem solving sessions should be part of every manager’s toolkit. If you see a looming problem, don’t be afraid to call time out.

Nelson Repenning

Nelson helps translate successful fieldwork into underlying principles with rigorous academic underpinnings for use in his work at MIT as well as by ShiftGear.

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