focusA break. It used to be a nuisance. A stand in the way of progress. A moment of distraction. I was (ab)using breaks to catch up, when a program was running behind schedule. I recalibrated with clients and colleagues during breaks. I was writing flip charts during breaks. Even during my half year break, it is hard to put the brakes on: leave breathing space between my eternal ‘doing’. I encounter the eternal doing a lot in my leadership development practice as well:

The HR Director had warned me that this leadership team was running long meetings: 08:00 – 18:00. In the past, they continued during breaks and lunch time. Sandwiches would be wheeled in. Whoever needed a comfort break or call was sneaking out of the meeting. Occasionally, when nothing else seemed available they would even run the whole day in a place without daylight. By the time I joined them, the routines were already in a much better shape, but still very much driven by a standard agenda, routine slides and ‘anxious visits’ of people ‘lower’ in the organization. Team members planned parallel meetings. They were doing email, or social during meetings. They were not fully present in the room, which led to routine conversations instead of the engaged and frank conversations they needed.

This is where breaks come in. Breaks allow you to recover, recharge and keep you on your toes. Fatigue leads us to routine behaviors and that is when we stop exploring and questioning. Routine behaviors are the biggest obstacles for change. They will lead you back to doing things the way you always did them. Routines are the main reason why we all find it so hard to change behavior in the workplace and in life in general. Paradoxically, routines are also a life line to sanity. Just think of your shopping routine, your daily commute, your exercise practice. So the big question is what routines to change as we cannot change them all. At first, it requires the time to reflect and that is what gets lots in busyness.

The commercial leadership team benefited from simple guidelines during off sites: one topic per half day, devices in a phone stack, ‘hot issues’ on the agenda, always an outside physical activity in the afternoon, more conversation in break outs, more invitation of knowledgeable guests from other departments, other levels, other companies for robust conversation and different viewpoints. Real decisions and wide spread communication before heading back to the airports.

Advising others is always easy. My own ‘break’ journey is full of ups and downs: Sheer pleasure when the sun breaks through the clouds, while sitting on a surf board. Frustration with my inability to simply enjoy life or change my own routines. My tendency to plan the break like a work week and the joy of learning good 2017 music from my boys. Try ‘Mi gente’ from William & Balvin: