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Working IN and ON the team

Leadership teams often face moments of drama, disagreements, and conflicts. Implementing strategic timeouts allows them to gain a reflective "balcony view," transforming unaligned commitments into cohesive actions.

Why it matters: Most leadership teams get bogged down by agenda-driven issues, struggling with disagreements that hinder collective decision-making. The tendency to rely on hierarchical power rather than collaborative solutions exacerbates these challenges.

Dual Dimensions of Team Conversations

The Business Dimension (SHOW): 

Teams focus on strategic agendas, aiming to make decisions that propel execution. This is the most visible part of team interactions. Most teams spend 100% of their time in the SHOW.

The Relating Dimension (FLOW): 

Teams explore the under-the-surface interpersonal dynamics during heated discussions. Team members then listen, inquire, and reframe their peers' worldviews. 

The Power of Reflective Timeouts

High-performing teams engage in both dimensions: executing tasks (SHOW) and nurturing team dynamics (FLOW). The ability to switch between these focuses is crucial for maintaining team effectiveness.

When team members get triggered and conflict arises, somebody must call a timeout. Initially, it’s me, the team coach. Quickly after, it’s every member’s responsibility. 

High-performing teams switch between the SHOW and FLOW. They work IN the team (SHOW) and ON the team (FLOW).

Leadership challenge

In the sterile environment of team coaching sessions or offsites, leadership teams commit to taking timeouts in regular meetings. 

However, during regular meetings, they don’t follow through on their commitments in the heat of the moment. They either forget or don’t dare interrupt the conversation pattern to get back into the flow. 

The power of reflective timeouts

Calling for a reflective pause during intense discussions is a potent way to re-center the team. 

The harder the conversation is, the harder it is to take a reflective timeout because tough conversations trigger and unregulate us.

Unregulated or reactive leadership triggers us to respond to others through older versions of ourselves that protect our identity and self-worth. Reactive leadership manifests differently in different people. Some try to take over, some criticize, and some just shut up.

The reflective timeout regulates both the individual team members and the collective team. 

If one individual pauses to check in and asks themselves internally, “How am I doing here?” they might be able to realize they are reactive. Such awareness can regulate them quickly, especially with the support of a few deep breaths or micro-meditation. 

This member is now capable of taking a timeout for the whole team. 

One member's self-regulation is paramount to collective regulation. 

Shared responsibility in timeout calls

Like in sports, every team member should feel empowered to call timeouts. It’s not the sole responsibility of the team leader (or the coach). 

This shared responsibility helps mitigate the power dynamics that might otherwise prevent team members from interrupting the team leader, especially the CEO.

Working ON the team

When finally somebody calls for a timeout, the team takes a short balcony view break to observe behaviors that are not aligned with their intentions so they can correct their path. 

The reflective conversation outside the conversation is the core of working ON the team. A pattern interruption puts the team back in the FLOW state. 

How to call timeouts

  1. Immediate Signal: Use a clear timeout signal. If unnoticed because people don’t leave space during heated conversations, take more vigorous action and shout “timeout.”

  2. Ask a reflective question: Pause for 3-5 seconds and ask a question such as, “What are you noticing going on here?” Talk slowly and quietly to cool down the tension. 

  3. Frame your observation: If your question didn’t receive a reflective response, share what you noticed. For example: “I’m noticing that everyone is grounded in their righteousness with little openness to listen to each other. Is that right? Do you feel the same? Am I the only one that feels so?”

Auto-pilot timeouts

It takes a lot of practice and courage to call for timeouts at critical points of heated conversations. Until timeouts become second nature, teams can set autopilot timeouts. 

Because it’s difficult to pause when everyone is triggered, set a timer (like 15 minutes) in advance to pause even when nobody is triggered. Reflect for a moment, and then return to the business conversation. 


When teams work IN and ON the team, they transform from ordinary to extraordinary. Timeouts are a “reset button” that shifts focus from SHOW to FLOW. 

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