I recently returned from a vacation with my family, one that involved a number of big, fun activities. Interestingly, when I look back at the trip, it strikes me that the best part of it—especially in terms of the lasting benefits to our family—happened during the times in-between those activities.
For instance, we loved the evenings when we were just hanging out together in the house where we stayed. And the simple, informal meals we made when we weren't going out for dinner were the best ones of all.
I think the same idea applies to work; the time in-between meetings and major events is so often the most valuable. That's not to say that meetings aren't important—they're critical. I've written plenty—even a whole book—about the centrality of meetings and the need to make them great.
But I am amazed at how much happens at my company between meetings. So many of our new ideas and insights come to life while we're eating lunch or waiting in line at the airport or standing in the middle of the office chatting. It happens all the time.
Now, I can't deny that part of the reason this is so prevalent at our company is the physical configuration of our office. We work in a big, open room where conversations can be had at the drop of a hat. While that is sometimes a recipe for distraction (particularly when I'm in the office because I'm a raging extrovert), it also makes it easy to have spontaneous discussions.
For people who work in walled offices, on different floors, and in different locations, reaping the benefits of ‘in-between time’ is much more difficult. I can't help but wonder how much goodness is being missed because organic, spontaneous conversations aren't taking place. Maybe that's one of the reasons why so much innovation happens in start-ups where employees are working shoulder-to-shoulder, literally.
I think that the best leadership teams, the healthiest companies, the best marriages and families understand the value of ‘in-between time.’ But I know that it isn't easy. It requires us to let go of the guilt we feel when we can't calculate the ROI and have the wisdom and courage to be intentionally inefficient, knowing that the organizations we lead will ultimately become more effective and successful as a result.