In praise of respite (Part 2)

Why not let yourself go…

Isn’t “let go” a wonderful expression? In German it has a special meaning for yeast dough: allow it to rise. Only when yeast dough is allowed to rise long enough, i.e. to ferment away in peace, will it grow (ideally even doubling and tripling its volume) and thus develop into the basis for a delicious loaf of bread or a special cake. If it is not allowed to rest, the bread will become firm, flat and sometimes even moist inside. I have baked many loaves – believe me, you don’t want to eat bread like that.

By now you will be familiar with my penchant for questioning existing and long-tested regimes. Is a practice that has been adhered to for a long time still consciously executed, i.e. does it fit the current circumstances, or is it merely a routine that actually has nothing to do with experienced reality any more? Should it, perhaps, be phased out?

Example (the sarcasm is intended): How do proposals emerge in your company or in your area of responsibility so you can adapt quickly to market changes? Do you still think that you as the boss or your boss ought to provide the best ideas? And as a boss: Do you still draw your self-esteem from winning a competition with your employees? As long as there are winners and losers in this struggle, you are doing something wrong. Or is there where you work a “development department” that is responsible for the issue and that you can rail at when it takes too long?

And what does all this have to do with yeast dough?

“While the dough rests, the flour swells and binds the water contained in the dough. At the same time, the gluten relaxes so that the dough can be shaped and rolled out. The yeast in dough also produces fermentation gases, which are important for a good porosity of the dough. Finally, aromatic substances are formed, which are crucial for an aromatic smell and taste of the pastry.” 1

So a whole lot happens while the dough purports to be resting. The dough is taking an active break, I would even say a creative break. It gets the time it needs to allow something new to emerge.

Try the following if you have courage and trust in your employees: From the agile project environment we are familiar with „slacktime“. Slacktime means that all employees consciously take time to develop something new. They explicitly step out of hectic (project) day-to-day business for a pre-defined time that is the same for everyone, and attend to completely different topics, which are nevertheless supposed to have something to do with the company they work for.

I don’t know if it applies to all Google offices, but it is said that every Friday developers there have the chance to develop side projects. This is supposedly how Gmail came about. In one company I know, breaks are taken after each sprint. Depending on how long the sprint lasts, the next sprint does not start until four hours up to 2 days later.

Or in a company in Düsseldorf there appear to be Gold Cards: in each iteration, each developer gets a voucher that he can redeem for a “free” day.2

Or why not organise an Exploration Day in which all employees work on shaping the company in an Open Space event (I will discuss this method of large group moderation in more detail in a later article). Topics are collected in advance, and on the morning of the OS workshop all topics are presented again and others are collected. This ensures that all employees really have a chance to be heard. After the processing phase, which runs strictly according to OS laws3 , all results are presented and the next steps are also described. It is possible that a topic needs more time to be developed than the duration of this workshop.

And: Some Slacktime projects can become real products, some do not.

Slacktime is not “120% time”, i.e. not overtime. And there is no pressure to produce results. A mad rush, stress and permanent focus can prevent employees from remaining creative and open to new things. A tired, drained person is rarely creative, let alone innovative.

Slacktime uses the conscious stepping out of daily and project business to develop something new and better for the company. In a company that cultivates this mindset, everyone is invited to further develop the company. This is a huge benefit for both employees and the entire company.

1 https://www.lebensmittellexikon.de/t0000860.php

2 https://www.informatik-aktuell.de/management-und-recht/projektmanagement/slack-time-open-space.html
Here you will find a good description of how to discover the right Slacktime for you and how to use Slacktime.

3 In OpenSpace, the law of 2 feet applies: I work on the topic that interests me. Either I am a “butterfly” and move from one topic to another or I am a “bumblebee” and stay with one topic because I can pollinate it.

Original text: HFI
English translation: BCO

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