Slowing the Stopwatch - 5 Ways to Beat Time's Limits on Organizational Health

Time is relentless!

It moves events from future to past in the momentary blink of the present. It's a universal fixed cost, resisting every attempt to budget it. Sometimes an asset, time is usually a liability.  

In leader and organizational development, time is a particularly thorny obstacle. Mentoring, strong relationships, and empowerment are all critical to success. And they all take time. A lot of it. Good leaders often begin down a path of development for their teams, and then find the "zero sum" nature of time mocks their best intentions.  Chances are, you've seen this. 

The reality? We are human, and we live within the unyielding confines of time. (Justin Timberlake provided a fascinating take on this.) 

There's no silver bullet around this. So we look for the small edges that will make us successful in the long run. The little things that, done habitually, pay large dividends: 

1) Stay alert. Opportunities to grow team members lie scattered throughout the daily schedule. You may have to tilt your head to see them, but they are there. One small example is keeping the phone in the pocket on the elevator ride. When you have a team member standing next to you, invest in them. If you're alone, rehearse who you will see during the walk to the office and add a few seconds to those exchanges. At the core, grow the care and concern that you have for your team members. 

2) Swap Telling for Asking. There's so many things we want to tell our teams to help them be more successful. We can accelerate their growth and get to know them better by turning those statements into thoughtful questions. Think Socrates. Yes, asking questions takes a little more time than telling, but it's worth it. 

3) Assessments. How well do we know ourselves - strengths, weaknesses, potential for blind spots? How we come across to others? Are we a person people are candid with, or instead just give the expected answer? Understanding ourselves and the type of impact we have on others is a lifelong task of the leader. Taking an assessment creates a shortcut to that understanding. Time and again I've coached leaders and heard that the assessment data confirms things they've been learning about themselves. The difference is, it gives a language and quantifiable data. Growth then has a benchmark. 

4) Breaking bread - TEAMS. We all have to eat. Some of you are like me and see the potential of a working lunch: We can labor at the computer while cramming nutrients into our faces. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "There's something about breaking bread together." It is a foundational part of humanity, and has a way of building connection more than just talking does. Eat with your team. Even if it's a quick lunch. Spend the time getting to know them, or have a "brown bag" lunch where there's a professional topic on the table. 

5) Breaking bread - PEERS. As leaders move higher up in an organization, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain professional peer relationships. Get proactive. Set up a lunch with peers from other organizations and have a professional discussion on the challenges facing you. Agree that you're going to be a bit vulnerable with one another. If you're concerned about competition, invite peers in organizations that complement your own, rather than directly compete. Consider hiring a facilitator to help guide that conversation and maximize the benefit. (Yes, shameless plug!) These interactions are going to equip you to be a better leader and can have a direct effect on on your overall organization. 

Each of these "little things" require only minimal adjustments to things already on our calendars and in our schedules. The time investment is relatively small, but the impact on organizational health is great.