Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Why You Need 180 Seconds of Silence

ARCHIVES
Image via NLshop/Shutterstock.com

What’s the best thing to do for your crazy-busy, super stressed out, overachieving team? 

180 seconds of silence.

Some background: Last week a colleague and I were designing a short strategy meeting for one of the federal offices we work with. Our client was late to the planning call and, when she hopped on the phone, informed us she had only 90 seconds to talk. Instead of reviewing the prepared agenda, she vented about how her team was swamped, they were buried in work and would be in a mad dash for the next six months.

We listened as she talked for five minutes (instead of the 90 seconds she'd originally promised). She didn’t like that our agenda for the strategy meeting was heavy on action planning—she felt the team was already at capacity and that putting more dates, milestones and deliverables on their plates would only make things worse, not better.

Action plans were a non-starter, so we proposed that the best use of the team’s time would be to have a conversation about how they could sustain themselves as they scrambled to meet tight deadlines. Our client got quiet, taking in what we said, and responded, “That would be very useful.”

Fast forward to the day of our meeting:  We have a total of two hours.

I turn to my client and let her know we’d like her to say a few things to open the meeting but before doing that my colleague and I have a short exercise we’d like to do to transition the team from the frenzy of their day to the meeting. 

We wanted to slow things down a bit...

I told the team we were going to sit in silence for 180 seconds.  I’d set a timer and, when we were done, they’d hear the alarm go off. We’d then start the meeting.

I set the timer.  The team sat in silence.  180 seconds of total silence—an eternity when you’re with others. No talking. No laughing. Just silence.

Admittedly, I wondered if perhaps this was a bit silly. Even I was unprepared for how long three minutes of silence felt. But slowly, a calm started to settle in over the room. Until finally:

*Ding* *Ding* *Ding* *Ding*

As the alarm shattered the silence, our client opened her eyes, turned to me and said, “That was the most valuable three minutes I’ve had all week.”

The team had slowed down, their frenzy—worn on their faces when they came in the room—was visibly absent, and we got to work figuring out how they could get through the weeks and months ahead. 

At the end of the meeting my client shook my hand, thanked me, and said she would be starting all team meetings with 180 seconds of silence.

Three minutes to take stock, reset and get clear. How do you help your team reset during periods of high stress?

Image via NLshop/Shutterstock.com

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.