Reducing Conflict 31 Time Out

Imagine that you had a way to tell the leader of a meeting that you are bored with the current discussion and wished the conversation could move on to a more helpful topic. 

Now imagine you could share your thought with others to test if they agreed with you without getting them or the leader upset.  If that seems like a utopia, just read on; this article has the solution to many hours of wasted time spent in meetings.

Develop a Charter

I advocate that each team should have some kind of Charter that allows the participants of team meetings to establish a set of ground rules to be as efficient as possible. At any time in its existence, a team can establish a few rules that will save everyone an amazing amount of frustration.

The team should be a group of mature individuals who all have their mutual best interests at heart. It helps a lot if there is real trust within the team.  Then just a quick brainstorm can generate a few basic rules.  For example, here are three rules that can lead to a more effective group process:

  1. We will start and end our meetings on time.
  2. We will listen to each other’s input and not grandstand.
  3. We will not make jokes at the expense of any team member.

Use the Familiar Time Out Hand Signal

One incredibly powerful team rule is the use of the “Time Out” signal.  The hand signal is the familiar one from football, where the referee puts the tips of the fingers of one hand to the palm of the other hand to form the letter “T.” Once a group has established that it is safe to do this, something magic happens.

Each member of the team becomes empowered to let his or her thoughts be known when the group appears to be spinning wheels.  The time out sign is merely calling the question by letting the leader know that at least one individual thinks the team would be better off moving to a different topic.  Because of the agreement that no individual will receive punishment for making the gesture, team members are free to use it when the situation arises.

In ensuring that no person feels punished by calling the question, the team leader’s actions are critical.

Team Leader’s Role

The team leader should now say something like this, “I see Jake is signaling that he wants to move on. Are the rest of you in agreement? Let’s do a quick vote by thumbs up for agreeing with Jake and thumbs down if you disagree.”  If most of the team members show affirmative body language or verbal response, then the subject can immediately shift to something more valuable. Imagine how refreshing this method would be in those all-day meetings that seem to drag on forever.


Just this one hand signal can save any team hours of tedious repetition or arguments, once the team agrees to use it.  Every member of the team needs to adhere to the “Do Not Punish” rule for it to work over time.

I advocate that you encourage your team at work to discuss and approve the use of the “time out” gesture and other basic rules. These rules can significantly improve the productivity and empowerment of any team. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


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