Slowing down to accelerate better

“There is so much to do, there is so little time, we must go slowly”  Taoism.

As the world of work is restarting, teams are again under pressure to perform and deliver. There is a sense of under-performance and that “we need to catch up”. At the same time, most people are feeling tired, need time to rest and take it slow. This misalignment generates a tension between the need to move fast (organisational & team level) and the need to slow down (individual level).


Hybrid working

It’s a strange thing, but when you are dreading something, and would give anything to slow down time,
it has a disobliging habit of speeding up.
”  J.K. Rowling.

The misalignment

Needs of individualsNeeds of organisations and teams
Taking it slowRecovering the perceived performance deficit
Healing physically and emotionallyNot missing out on opportunities
Taking time to think, not rushingInstilling a sense of urgency across all levels

There is value in both perspectives. I would argue that it’s not an ‘either/or’ conversation, but that these things work best together.

The paradox of slowing down in order to accelerate

In fast-growing organisations, things are always moving at top speed. But this comes at a price. As a result of “moving fast and breaking things”:

  • People struggle with the stress and pressure to continuously deliver outstanding results.
  • Decisions are consistently made based on incomplete data, or without involving all of the right people.
  • Certain decisions are being under-thought.
  • People don’t find the time to sit down and think.
  • “Damage” needs to be undone in retrospect.

Paradoxically, it’s only when we slow down that better, deeper, more nuanced thinking emerges. This allows everyone to take stock, notice patterns and themes, decide how to move forward with clarity and confidence.

The impulse to do things

 In his book “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter Senge invites us to imagine a rubber band, stretched between our vision and our current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension, representing the tension between the vision and the current reality. This tension seeks resolution or release, and can only be solved by either pulling the vision towards the reality, or the reality towards the vision. Senge carries on to explain that the word “tension” suggests anxiety or stress, when in fact it’s a creative and emotional tension. Often it can lead to feelings or emotions associated with anxiety, such as sadness, discouragement, hopelessness, or worry. To resolve this discomfort, many people will have a natural tendency to move into action and to do things.

Perceptions of time

The way we experience time can be described in two useful ways: in time, and through time.

When we operate in-time, we often have our past behind us and our future in front of us. It’s as if we are in a tunnel, focused on moving forward, dealing with things as they come, often not seeing the bigger picture due to the things in front of us. This is particularly comfortable for people who enjoy being “in the here and now”.

When we operate through time, we can see the past, the present and the future in front of us, sometimes on a timeline. This allows us to see the big picture, plan, notice patterns, learn from past experiences, and set deadlines. This is particularly comfortable for people who enjoy planning, setting strategy and big picture thinking.

In fast-moving organisation that strive for operational excellence, people often work in time. The skill is to learn how to operate with both perspectives and develop a new level of flexibility.

The impact of the misalignment

‘Too much, too fast, too soon’ is Peter Levine’s definition of trauma. So, for individuals who currently need to take it slow and not rush, moving too fast into action amplifies the feelings of anxiety, reduces the ability to focus, can be distracting and sometimes overwhelming.

At the same time, organisations that wait too long or move too slow in strategic areas might miss out on key opportunities in the marketplace, or fail to respond to immediate client needs.

So, what can you do?

Here are 5 things you can do as a team to address the tension between slowing down and moving fast:

Have conversations about individual needs and team pace.

If you are the team leader, spend one-to-one time with your team members to understand more of their personal perspectives and needs for the moment. Find out in what ways you and the organisation could support them, and only then discuss the mutual exchange of value and what the organisation needs of them. Find the common ground and draw up flexible timelines.

At an individual level, it’s important to start focusing on developing your personal wellness. Applying these tips will tremendously increase your wellbeing and your relationship with colleagues.

Arrange a dedicated team meeting to discuss the team’s current pace, and how this needs to look over the next period of time – e.g. next quarter. Here are some guiding questions:

  • What do our stakeholders and the organisation need of us in the next quarter?
  • How do we respond to these expectations? What are we prioritising?
  • What about our individual and team needs?
  • What’s the speed at which we need to move? How does that match with our current pace?
  • What’s the shift that needs to happen? How comfortable are we with that? Is this feasible?

Decide which key areas need slowing down, and which areas need more speed.

A Founder I coached some years ago found a creative way to drive urgency across his leadership team. He put an urgency meter on the wall of their team meeting room. The meter had a range from 1 to 10, and could be manually adjusted to signal what was needed. But that didn’t work until the leader had a conversation with the whole team about which key areas need acceleration, and which ones need slowing down. In the end, they agreed to adjust the meter together, based on the big topics on their team meeting agenda.

Introduce ‘through time’ perspectives in your team meetings.

Spend sufficient time speaking about the big picture and the vision you are looking to achieve collectively. Reflect on how your current priorities and plans are contributing to this vision. In tracking the operational areas, take time to reflect on what you are learning together from past experiences, what patterns you are noticing, and how that is informing your next steps.

Build the habit of slowing down.

In her book ‘Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind’, Nancy Kline talks about setting up a Thinking Environment for the whole team. The ten components include practices such as:

  • Listening to each other with palpable respect and genuine interest, and without interruption.
  • Treating each other with respect, giving equal turns and attention, regardless of role and grade.
  • Offering each other the gift of not rushing. Ease creates, and urgency destroys.
  • Practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to challenge.
  • Welcoming diverse group identities and diversity of thinking.

Don’t rush through decision making.

It’s rarely the case that you have all of the information needed to be able to make decisions. And it’s rarely the case that you will have a lot of time to deliberate.

But it is useful to agree as a team how decisions are to be taken, what your process is, and how a simple checklist might look like. Even if you need to move fast and make a decision, you can use a checklist to considerately check against your process and criteria, so that you’re not missing any essential steps and involving the right people.

To take time to think is to gain time to live”  Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind, Nancy Kline.

Alex Popa-Antohi
Team coach, teamGenie®

Alex, team coach and team effectiveness expert.

Alex Popa-Antohi.

Alex is an experienced team coach with over 12 years of international business and organisational experience. He now sits on the Board of The Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS).

Putting insights into action:

 We hope you found this article interesting and useful. Now it’s your turn:

  • Having read the article, are you recognising the tension between slowing down and accelerating in your own team? Using the five points in the article as prompts, what actions will you take as a team to better align and increase your flexibility?
  • If you’d like to find out more about our work with teams on alignment and business transformation, get in touch and let’s have a chat.

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