A few years ago, we did a team building exercise at work which involved the group collaborating on a vague project with no defined roles for any of us. I think exercise was intended to show how different personality types could better collaborate, though I learned a very different lesson.
The group of about 15 people was given a vague task, and no leadership roles were assigned. After what felt like roughly eternity happened, I jumped up to the whiteboard to start facilitating a discussion on how to tackle the challenge. At the end of the exercise, the person leading the exercise asked me how long I felt like I waited before getting up. I estimated something like 30 seconds. I was quickly corrected that it was more like 3 seconds. In the awkward (at least to me) silence of no one leading or coordinating, I jumped in to coordinate. I regret not being more self-aware — I wish I could have let people who weren’t in leadership roles get to practice leading and facilitating.
My father, a career 6th grade school-teacher, always talked about the concept of Wait Time when I was growing up:
It can be extremely awkward when a teacher asks the class a question, and it’s met with nothing but crickets. Research has shown that in most classrooms, students are typically given less than one second to respond to a question, regardless of grade level. At the end of that second, some teachers break the silence by either expanding the question or providing the answer. Other teachers choose to cold call on a student for an answer, which typically results in a brief recall response or an embarrassed shrug.
This time period between the teacher’s question and the student response is called wait time…
The teaching concept of Wait Time talks about the need to allow enough time for people to think about a question and formulate an answer. The concept of wait time should be applied both to letting someone answer and also ensuring that you don’t respond immediately, without thinking about what they said.
Brian Regan (a hilarious comedian) captured it well in his Me Monster bit, where people are trying to one-up each other, waiting for the other person’s lips to stop moving, so they can tell their story to impress everyone else.
Nobody likes the Me Monster, and nobody likes the person who can’t wait for a few seconds to hear what other people in the group think.