Time Away From Task

Up to 95% of knowledge workers are on multiple teams and some are on ten, twelve or more. Patrick Lencioni identifies the ideal team player as “being humble, hungry and having people smarts”. But what does that mean that they do? As a part of finishing my Masters of Business Coaching degree in 2018, I was required to undertake a research project. I basically researched the question of - what does a great team member actually do?

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There is no way to identify the things that every team member does in every possible team. However, based on my research of elite teams and organisational teams, I identified a range of skills and behaviours that were linked to team performance. Funnily enough, something that I decided to call "time away from task" was one of those things. In other words, one of the things that great team members do is choose to spend time with their teammates when they were not obliged to. The participants often mentioned the use of food and/or drinks. In different settings, that turned up as different actions - it was often a coffee, a meal or an event. In one instance, it was teammates who helped put together a cot for an injured expectant father who couldn't do it himself.

The benefits of team members investing in time away from task may have been best summarised by one of the research participants, who spoke about time away from task helping to get to know people. He said, “when you know more about someone, generally you have more compassion and care for that person." When people care about the people on their team, they start acting with the interests of the team at heart. Once we act with more compassion, we view errors as an inevitable consequence of striving for good work rather than deliberate stuff up and make other people's jobs harder. 

The cohesion of team members is a significant factor in how teams can be better together than apart. Time away from task is valuable and it's also difficult to achieve in many ways. When we are busy and pressed for time, spending time away from task can be hard to find (or justify to ourselves). When we are working remotely, it can be hard to figure out a way to achieve time away from task (there are ways that teams do it). An easy trap to fall into is to force this. You can imagine that forcing people to spend time with people might feel a bit like when you were a teenager and your mum tried to set you up with the family friend. Well intended and probably awkward for all parties. More effective is to create an environment where these actions are possible and valued.

Some questions for you to consider this week:

  1. Do you think that time away from task is an opportunity for you and your team?

  2. What is one way that you might be able to promote time away from task?