No More Tears

Prevent Burn-Out in High-Achieving Teams with the “Virtual Baby” Technique


This post was originally featured on my blog at Halfshark Industries. Head over there to read more about management and marketing.

I was talking to a friend in consulting the other day. She was barely keeping her head above water. She was on a new project, and the clients were even more demanding than usual. The hours were brutal. No one was sleeping. The team was barely surviving, and the team’s one parent, who of course had additional non-work demands to address, was in a particularly bad place.

But my friend was smiling.

Her engagement manager had just told the team members that they needed a “virtual baby:” A project outside of work that got one hour of protected time that no one could touch, and no one could judge.

One consultant’s virtual baby was French lessons. Another’s was training a puppy. The parent on the team chose to spend time with their actual baby. My friend’s virtual baby was just getting an extra hour of sleep.

And it kept the team alive.

High-Achieving Teams Need Virtual Babies More Than Other Teams Do

When you put motivated, smart people on tight deadlines, they can feel immense pressure to make significant sacrifices for the team’s benefit. This results in a team that might temporarily achieve greatness, but that will burn out and probably quit in the long run.

Virtual babies act as pressure valves. They provide legitimate, work-related reasons to take breaks. They bring teams together by making the allocation of work more transparent and fair, and they clearly communicate to employees that their priorities are the team’s priorities. Virtual babies are the ultimate alignment tool.

Interested in implementing a virtual baby on your team? Here’s a quick guide to help you make it happen:

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