There is a moment in every sport where one opponent begins to dominate. Momentum shifts, adrenaline takes over and an unstoppable force emerges. Points begin to accumulate rapidly, fans get louder and a palpable energy fills the air. In a matter of seconds, the game changes. Just like that.

Some call this a rally. Others call it a run.

When you're on the opposing side of this shift--that is, feeling the pressure versus creating it--any good coach knows, you call a timeout.

I witnessed the power of the timeout last week as the Philadelphia 76ers (the youngest basketball team in the NBA), took on the Atlanta Hawks (the team with the best record in the NBA). Philadelphia's team of young, unproven players overcame a 53-47 halftime deficit with a strong third quarter when it outscored Atlanta 25-16. As the fourth and final quarter began, (and much to the astonishment of any assumptive spectator), the Sixers were more than winning. They were owning it.

But then, something happened.

As quickly as the pass of a ball, a sudden shift in momentum began. And in minutes, with three consecutive 3-pointers, Atlanta erased a three-point deficit to take the lead. With 7:53 left in the game, the score was 77-76 in favor of the Hawks and Philadelphia's Coach Brett Brown called a timeout. The clock stopped, the fans sighed and the entire Wells Fargo Center arena exercised a moment of uniform silence.

As an avid sports fan and former collegiate athlete, I knew what Coach Brown was doing. I knew why he was doing it and what he hoped to achieve. He needed to stop the clock. He needed to change this newfound momentum created by the Hawks. And he needed to do it fast.

It was at that moment that I couldn't help but reflect on just how powerful taking a timeout can be...in sports, in business and in life. As the head coach of your own company, leveraging this simple sports tactic during critical moments can be your most effective tool to help change momentum.

Here are 5 ways to call your own timeout:

  1. Take a hike.

Steve Jobs championed the concept of the "mobile meeting" and caused the business community to quickly adopt this practice. "Taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation," Walter Isaacson wrote in his biography of the Apple co-founder. Identify the time of day you are least productive. For many of us, it is between 2 and 4 p.m. Try stepping outside for some fresh air to clear your head. If that's not a possibility, take a walk around your workplace or do some stretching exercises at your desk.

  1. Tune out.

Music can be a great stress reliever (and a personal must in my workplace). In a recent University of Miami study of information technology specialists, those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with more and better ideas than those who didn't listen to music. Plugging into your favorite ITunes playlist or Pandora or Spotify may be just what you need to escape for a while.

  1. Change your view.

Getting out of the office can loosen things up in a good way. It can be as simple as taking the team out for lunch or as big as hosting an annual retreat. The changeup of a new location lets everyone gain a fresh perspective on work. Plus, it helps you and your employees get to know each other better and strengthen internal bonds.

  1. Count sheep.

Arianna Huffington has a pillow on her office couch that reads "sleep your way to the top" to reinforce this point. While she doesn't mean this in the literal sense, it does reaffirm her belief in taking a midafternoon power nap to improve productivity. So much so, she, like many organizations, has installed nap pods at HuffPo. Let's face it; most of us are sleep deprived. A power nap--one that lasts between 10 and 30 minutes--not only helps take care of a sleep deficit, but it can boost cognitive thinking skills and improve a sullen mood as well.

  1. Get out of town.

We, as Americans have become the workaholics of the world. The International Labor Organization reports that Americans work per year 499 more hours than French workers, 260 more hours than British workers and 137 more hours than Japanese workers. Additionally, a recent Harris poll of 2,000 adult workers found that only one-fourth of those with paid time off took all of that vacation time. And, get this, 15 percent reported that they took no time off at all. Overwork can lead to a host of problems, including stress, burnout, employee turnover and even errors on the job. This is your chance to lead by example. Use your vacation time and encourage your team members to do the same.

Whether you are leading a team on a court or in an office, a well-timed timeout frees you to look at your goals and to strategize a better game plan. By simply stopping the clock, you will come back more focused and more energized than before and (like the Sixers), change momentum back to a winning direction for your team.

Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering (or doubting the power of a timeout), the final score that night was 92-84 Philadelphia ;)

Published on: Mar 16, 2015