Most of the leaders I work with are masters of multitasking. Their days are filled with meetings, conference calls, client visits and resolving complex problems. In short, they spend their time gulping water from a firehose, with no visible end in sight to the relentless pace.
Does this sound familiar?
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Interestingly, there are some leaders who seem to manage this intensity much better than others, particularly those who have made reflection a practice. They seem to more seamlessly navigate their daily challenges and better leverage knowledge and past experience when doing so.
The secret: These leaders structure their workweek to include time for introspection, and they promote this practice with their own teams.
The process that Lauren has employed since becoming the VP of sales in a heavily-regulated healthcare company was developed out of frustration.
“I was rushing from meeting to meeting on a daily basis,” she told me. “Most of the time, I’d get to the end of the week and realize that I’d barely had time to sit down and just think. That concerned me because we were dealing with some particularly challenging accounts and I wasn’t sure that we’d actually formulated a strategy that would be difference-making. We were clamoring to put out fires, without reflecting on what we were learning.”
That’s when Lauren instituted a ban on Friday afternoon meetings after 3 p.m. She wanted her team to have space at the end of each week to consider the progress of their projects, review the insights they’d gained from client interactions and plan their objectives for the following week. Team members are encouraged to disconnect from the intense pace for at least 30 minutes and spend that time in a reflective space.
“We have a lovely campus with walking trails, so I actually go outside for a walk during that time,” Lauren said. “It allows me to become more centered, and somehow I come back feeling less stressed and with more answers.”
Lauren’s practice of spending her reflection time outside is supported by studies that indicate that nature improves cognition and mood. Simply put, a walk in the park can improve your mental well-being and allow you to more readily improve your working memory. It’s more than just a momentary escape from the office.
Research also proves that encouraging your team to adopt a reflective process is likely to improve job performance, especially when reflection is coupled with an examination of the strategies employed to solve problems.
To capitalize on what science is showing us about the power of reflection, there are four main factors you can use to leverage this process with your team:
Establish the time
Creating space in the week for your team to reflect has a much more meaningful impact when it’s designed during business hours. Establishing “meeting-free zones” which are dedicated to reflection time sends a powerful message to your team that you take the practice seriously enough to devote paid hours to it.
Simply encouraging your staff to reflect isn’t enough, especially in intense, deadline-focused cultures where employees are likely to perceive “busyness” as the mechanism for achieving success and upward mobility. Defining a time for employees to reflect makes it more socially acceptable to engage in the practice of doing so.
Choose the right location
If you’re one of those people who feels better after a walk in the park, it’s no surprise. Studies show that spending time in nature not only improves mood and reduces anxiety, it also enhances cognition, especially working memory. In Japan, for example, the practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a prevalent practice that is part of the country’s national public health program.
Being in the presence of trees has been proven to reduce stress hormone production and blood pressure while boosting the immune system — an antidote to the tension created in hard-driving work settings.
Teams that work in an urban environment should take advantage of nearby locations that provide exposure to nature. If these are not readily available, consider creating indoor or outdoor spaces with plants and trees, and seek out meeting rooms with natural light, especially those with windows overlooking green space.
Structure the process
Once you’re in those meeting rooms, how you structure your team meetings can be difference-making for your business. Rather than a staff meeting that includes the typical status updates on projects, structure your meetings to encourage insight sharing. This can be accomplished by including “team insights” at the end of every meeting agenda when individual team members are encouraged to share key “take-aways” from the discussion.
When individuals know that they’ll be asked to offer their insights at the end of a meeting, it encourages higher order thinking, listening and processing, which naturally builds reflection into your meeting process. Sharing in a team setting also allows the organization to benefit from the team’s collective insights and harness them to achieve better outcomes.
Apply proven techniques
Technology is wonderful, and each of us has a preferred digital device. Yet, science indicates that going “old school” has its value, especially when designing a reflective process.
To capture your ideas when reflecting, handwriting your notes is so much more effective than typing those ideas into your mobile device or laptop. Journaling by hand allows you to retain conceptual information over a longer time period, enhancing your capacity to apply that information when confronted with future challenges.
The data are compelling. Improving performance may not be best accomplished by pushing employees to work harder or longer. Although seemingly antithetical, the secret to creating a winning team is to give them permission to slow down, so the benefits of reflection can shine through.
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