What sort of time are we keeping?


"I have wasted time, and now doth time waste me" - Richard II

One of the most common reasons people give for using a facilitator is "to keep us to time." This is nearly always taken to mean having an agenda with fixed times and accomplishing various goals on schedule.

Research from Berkeley University throws an interesting light on how we think about time. It suggests that our brains keep time in two different ways when predicting the future. Interval time relies on memories from past experiences whilst rhythmic time is based on, you guessed it, a sense of rhythm. We use both in combination to anticipate the future. These two "clocks" apparently operate in different parts of the brain.

Our hunch is that a lot of meetings run into difficulty if we don't keep open to both these ways of thinking. We've increasingly realised that satisfying conversations have a pace and rhythm to them in which a more linear sense of time can fade into the background. It's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to when he talks about flow states.

We also connect it to Paul Graham's post about management time vs maker time. He writes, "When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it."

Sometimes it's important to take our eyes off the clock and tune in more to the feel and rhythm of how people are working. Sometimes that means allowing sessions to run long. At other times it's picking up on cues that we can break early. And finding ways to do that show participants we're paying attention and still taking care they get their coffee breaks and that we'll still finish the day on time. This sounds simple but making these judgements and maintaining consent is actually quite hard. It's one of many reasons we think of our work as more craft than science.

(Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)