...And The Beat Goes On: Rhythm and Tempo
Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm. Therefore: a) repetition (of movements, gestures, action, situations, differences); b) interferences of linear processes and cyclical processes; c) birth, growth, peak, then decline and end. - Mark E Smith
This is the three R’s. The three R's: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition - Henri Lefebvre
Eoin Higgins writes about Rhythm as the invisible solution to hybrid working. Now let me start by saying that I think Eoin is right. I think that rhythm or cadence are critical to organizational life. That the creation and preservation of those rhythms are largely unconscious when everyone is colocated. And that COVID broke those rhythms and that organizations have struggled to reassemble them in the new world of hybrid working. Building something new is hard so the temptation is always to go back to the old thing, even if it is no longer fit for purpose.
For a moment, I want to differentiate between rhythm and tempo. A rhythm does need to repeat - because repetition legitimizes. It is a pattern in time. Tempo defines how fast that rhythm runs. And rhythm can be heard as an effort to manage the tempos of different voices and movements. I think that COVID has also screwed with our notion of tempo for similar reasons to those associated with rhythm.
You can argue that temporal leadership is actually the management of rhythm across a group. And without a rhythm reinforced through rituals and connections and meetings, helping a team manage their time is impossible. Temporal leadership involves the “scheduling of activities, synchronization of activities, and allocation of temporal resources” for a team.
We should also acknowledge that work is polyrhythmic and polymetric. Polyrhythmic means that while everything reaches the same milestone, the frequency of tasks varies. Polymetric means that task frequency stays the same but end points vary. There is not one simple rhythm occuring but multiple rhythms that people need to attend to. Again part of the work of a manager is to reduce the polyrhythmic and polymetric complexity of the work that people need to undertake. Sometimes they orchestrate. Sometimes they choreograph. Sometimes they are just the drummer providing the platform for individuals to solo.
The critical question this then presents is what happens when and where. Some kinds of work can be undertaken by someone in their own space and at their own pace - often provided they hit a particular deadline. Other kinds of work require people to meet together to sync their clocks. This kind of real time collaboration does not require colocation. Yet a third kind of work requires people to interact with each other in real time - often when they need to come up with something novel or handle something ambiguous. The proportions of each kind of work vary from role to role.
We must understand that the current wars ranging over hybrid work are as much about time as they are about space.