When’s the last time you were in a meeting that was truly inspiring? One where you left the room with more energy than when you entered? Wouldn’t it be amazing if more meetings were like this? The fact is, businesses view meetings as necessary evils. Tangible examples of inefficiency. But when meetings succeed, they can energize your entire day. Now here’s the good news: we may be seeing a change in how companies treat meetings. That’s because of the rise of “time design” as a skill set.
What is Time Design?
Time design is about getting the most value possible out of our time (meetings, workshops, conversations, etc.). Effective time designers are disciplined about establishing a goal for each meeting, and designing a minute-by-minute agenda for how to achieve the desired goal. But time designers do something else well: they are mindful of the emotions, intentions, needs, and perspectives of each participant. They create the narrative arc of the meeting, including a beginning, middle, and end like a writer creating a book. Within the context of that narrative arc, they identify key points where each meeting participant will have a say in moving the story forward. (For more information on designing narrative arcs for conversations, check out Daniel Stillman’s podcast where he interviews Jocelyn Ling with UNICEF’s Office of Innovation.)
Why do I believe time design is emerging as a bona fide skill set now? A couple reasons come to mind:
1. Businesses Need to Earn More Value out of Cross-Functional Teams
At Moonshot, we work with companies all the time to bring together cross-functional teams to co-create products and services that people love and trust. We use a popular tool known as a design sprint to prototype a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) in as little as four days. The tool has become increasingly popular in recent years as businesses look for ways to innovate faster and empower teams to disrupt from within. One of the main reasons why we’re big fans of the design sprint is that it is the best example of time well designed. Each day is action packed with meaningful time-bound activities, clear objectives, and structured breaks to maximize energy and productivity.
Here’s the thing: for design sprints to work, multidisciplinary teams need to play nice together. And that isn’t always easy because each team member could be coming from a different place (e.g., siloed department with separate objectives, operating under a separate P/L, different incentive structures, etc. ). This is where having the right facilitation skill set matters. Seasoned facilitators are experts in appreciating the biases that people bring into a meeting, and designing time to navigate through the obstacles by finding common ground. Businesses that use design sprints regularly have recognized this reality and have elevated the role of facilitator as time designer.
2. Thought Leaders Rally Around Time Design
High-profile thought leaders such as Jake Knapp (the creator of the design sprint) are elevating time design as a critical skill. Two years ago, Knapp and John Zeratsky wrote Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, which has been quickly influencing designers and business leaders. In the book, the authors set out to change how we think about time management. It’s not about managing to-do lists, but rather “creating time for your priorities by rethinking the defaults of constant busyness and distraction.”
This article about Jake really captures his thinking. I love the point about time management being about marshaling physical and mental energy to be fully engaged in what matters – instead of simply treating time like a utility. It’s hard enough to do that when you’re flying solo. In a team setting, the task becomes almost too much to bear. Getting a team of people with different agendas and needs focused on what really matters is a skill that takes some effort and focus.
The payoff for effectively designing time are focused teams that co-create meaningful outcomes which contribute to a larger goal. Teams are not just productive in a sense of “getting things done”; they produce the right outcomes for the right reasons. But just as important, each person on a team is treated with a sense of mindfulness and awareness. Their ideas are respected and valued because the facilitator designed time to take into account the needs of each team member in the meeting’s narrative.
Time design. It’s essential to your future success. How does time design fit within the context of your business? Feel free to share your thoughts and continue the conversation.