To honor a fallen comrade, the US Air Force observes a ritual known as the Missing Man formation. A team of pilots flies close over a public venue, in what’s normally a 5-plane chevron pattern. In the Missing Man ritual, there’s a plane missing from one wing of the V, its characteristic place in the motif meticulously preserved. The ceremony always leaves me with a gut impression of the undiminished “presence” of the missing pilot.

For some time now, in my school consulting, I have encouraged faculties and teams to self-organize, to create schedules that enshrine a “Missing Man” day each week for every person on the team. (…or bi-weekly, if that’s the best you can do at first.) There’s no need to carry forward the gender assumptions embedded in the name. Call it Missing One, or Missing Member or Missing Pilot Day.  I’m just extolling the application of the metaphor. Institutionalize and protect unaccountable time on the clock for each person. We trust you to handle your accountabilities, but we protect your right and need to conduct yourself in undirected time. whether that be reading or observing other teachers or hiking or sleeping or shopping for souvenirs with your brother in law. The 4DWW gives everyone a day to keep their own mental and physical house in order. In exchange for regular leave time, the team makes and maintains a plan for accommodating each person’s routine and predictable absence. It’s uplifting to the group, I can attest. They are eager to work together to make the schedule possible – are willing to regard it as a work-in-progress, to handle eventualities without resentment. They’ll swap with each other when necessary and be creative about seeing that everyone has a turn connecting their Missing Man Day to the weekend – all without an omniscient planner deciding how it shall be done.

It’s a practice that has rewards for both people and program.

First, no one bears the burden (or the status) of being indispensable – least of all the bosses, or the experts. The team spreads out and becomes more agile to cover its accountabilities. They cultivate the ability to improvise and make do without key people and functions, almost every day.

Second, it makes everyone more agile and more quick to take up slack.  Everyone in the community is motivated to participate in filling the gaps, learning to work around or mimic or corroborate essential traits or skills of the Missing Pilot to maintain the stability and integrity of the culture.

Third, it grants each person the agency to direct part of their work life – to slow down and observe and decide and interact with the world for one day each week – on payroll, but on their own terms, and without accountability for being productive in a particular way during that particular period of time.

As a result, people show up to community with more energy and enthusiasm, giving everyone an undeniable boost.

Undirected time is every creator’s sine qua non. If we treat our people like creators, they will create.

#4DWW – Try it today!

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