Bring back the great British tea break!

It’s an institution or, at least, it was an established ritual: the great British tea break.

Get together

When I first started work, and for many years afterwards, there was a break every morning and every afternoon. Everyone in the department would stop work for 15-20 minutes each morning and afternoon, to get together to have a cup of tea; it was important.

Being there

Well, maybe it was a mug of coffee, that was not important. The important part was to provide a social routine for the group in which we were working, even if we were not directly involved with one another during the rest of the day. To miss the tea break, was “not the done thing”. Obviously, if you were working elsewhere, or on a trip, you would not be there, but you were there in spirit because someone would know where you were, and others would ask.

If you had a visitor, they would come along to the tea break and everyone would be interested in what they did, and what they were doing here.

Meeting without an agenda

There was no agenda, people would catch up on what they had been doing over the weekend, or what they planned to do. Or some politics might well creep in. Sometimes long running sagas would be discussed and unfold over days or, even, weeks. Perhaps, more importantly, we’d tell jokes,

Also it was used in an informal way by more senior people in the group to canvas opinion, to pass on information, or even to make minor announcements. It was not necessary to call a meeting, because we already had the meeting. That part worked really well.

Structure

It allowed people to structure their day. It provided a placeholder for things to be brought up. And if there was something important to be discussed, that was the time to bring it up.

Obviously, on specific projects, more structured meetings focussed on the project would be called. Or, in extreme situations, such as a period of major change or crisis, then specific meetings might be called.

Forum

But the “tea break” provided a forum for airing a variety of issues, for establishing consensus among the group and, probably, to dealing with many small issues before they became major issues or crises.

And there was a more important reason: those issues that were aired help you to do the work. More on that another time. In the meantime …

Let’s bring it back!

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