Every Moment Matters: The Timeout

  • October 18, 2018


As part of a medical program at a heart and vascular institute, Arena Labs regularly saw the “Timeout” as a rushed, sloppy “exercise in obligation”. On average, they lasted 20-30 seconds, and in many cases, staff members were continuing to prepare their worksite for surgery rather than to stop, focus, and pay attention. This small insight was a massive indication of the broader cultural challenges that lacked a focus on details and the importance of team awareness.


There is a term called “psychological activation,” which is often leveraged in performance cultures. In sports, there are pre-game locker room speeches or tapping a ritual object for “luck.” In the military, after a pre-briefing, it is common for a leader to remind the team of the sacred nature of their work. These moments are often the one time the entire team is focused, as a unit.

In medicine, this moment is the Timeout. It is the only period, often over the course of hours, where every person in the OR is focused together on one message.

Thus, the Timeout can become a powerful activation ritual. Rather than a 30-second “exercise in obligation,” world-class surgical teams use that time in an extended way to ensure the team is ready, focused, and prepared for excellence.

An additional 60-to-90 seconds of focus could lead to massive back-end clarity of understanding and shared mission.

At this Heart + Vascular Institute, the Arena Labs team trained staff on how to turn the Timeout into a two-minute opportunity to pledge excellence. Deliberate check-ins with each staff member, a non-negotiable pause in activity, and a vocal buy-in of “Ready” by each team member.


This simple migration from obligation to opportunity changed the tone of each room. Not everyone was excited, but the compounding effect of focusing on performance and team in every surgery, every day, over the course of months, is how culture migrates from obligatory to excellence.