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How to run a reverse pilot with your team

In the last year, our (that’s Matt and Joe) roles have changed. In addition to delivering projects, developing products and services and building relationships with our really cool clients we’ve also taken on more responsibility for running different parts of the business. The thing is neither of us really took the time to sit down and reflect on how we were actually spending our time. We were both feeling some low-level anxiety that we weren’t making our highest level of contribution at work nor at home.

Completely independently of one another, we both decided to read ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown. Essentialism is about doing less, but better. Being an Essentialist means focussing one’s efforts on the essential few and not on the trivial many.

One of the ideas Greg shares in the book is the reverse pilot. Originally conceived by Dan Shapero at LinkedIn, the idea is to test removing non-essential activities and to see if it has any negative consequences.

For us, this is novel because a lot of our lives revolve around helping folks test new ways of working. Independently we decided to give it a whirl. Joe decided to stop showing up to one weekly internal meeting and one weekly client meeting where another colleague was already attending (of course he sent his apologies). Matt muted his Slack notifications to stop him from being constantly distracted and stopped saying ‘yes’ so quickly to every request to work on something internally, no matter how interesting it seemed.

In both our cases we freed up a bunch of time. Joe saved 2.5 hours each week and Matt saved potentially about 10 — he’s very bad at saying ‘no’. In Matt’s case, other folks have also stepped up, stretched themselves and got involved in new pieces of work that he would have otherwise stressed about late at night to get done.

What’s crucial here is that although we made these changes, nobody noticed. It was fine and the world didn’t stop spinning. With the extra time, we’ve been able to focus on some more of the basics (like company finances), do a bunch of interesting work on our strategy for the year ahead and create some downtime for ourselves — this stuff is essential.

We often speak to people who feel overwhelmed by work. More often than not, they know are doing many things they could stop and nobody would care. Many people’s approach is to just do more in the hope that something clears the fog. Here’s the thing. This doesn’t work.

We think that a reverse pilot might work for a bunch of people. In fact, we’ve actually started running this kind of activity not only with individuals but with teams. We’ve come up with some ideas that help teams to develop a shared understanding about what they think is essential and use that as the basis to identify the nonessential.

If you think you’d like to experiment with this idea, we’ve pulled together a workshop flow that will help you identify the stuff that’s ripe for a reverse pilot.

Download here: for an electronic workshop flow with facilitation notes explaining how to run the workshop.

What’s the catch

There isn’t one. All we ask is that if you use the guide, you use some of your extra time to give us some feedback so we can improve it. Also, tell us in the comments what other common challenges you and your team are facing. If people like and use these guides we might pull together some other workshop flows.



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Matt Barnaby

Matt Barnaby


A person who likes to do great things with great people so that together, we can make a bit of a difference to the world