Probably not …and that’s why it’s interesting…
Take a second to think about something your team regularly does well, and something your team regularly does that frustrates you.
Here’s the question for you: Did your team consciously decide to do either?
What’s surprising is that, for many teams, the answer is “No” to both. It’s also true for team activity that’s neither excellent nor frustrating.
What makes team habits so interesting is it doesn’t really matter whether we explicitly agreed to them or just unconsciously do them. That we do them is enough for us to keep doing them.
And, unlike personal habits, replacing one team habit with another isn’t something one person can do. When you explicitly change team habits, you’re renegotiating tacit agreements at the same time that you’re battling inertia. This is why there’s such a gulf between advice that’s focused on personal change (whether it be personal productivity or personal development) and advice focused on changing teams and collective action.
That an idea makes sense to you as an individual is enough to try it; an idea that may change your team requires the team to buy it if it has any chance of getting adopted and sticking. Every leader, manager, or hard-charging changemaker learns that brute forcing an idea that their team doesn’t buy lasts only as long as their energy to push it does.
Let’s return to the original prompt to think about the two kinds of team habits. If you’re like most people, it’s harder to anchor onto a good team habit than something you think is a bad team habit. There’s more than just our normal negativity bias at play here – good team habits become invisible because they’re a satisfying closed loop. If we’re primed to focus on open loops as individuals, we’re even more primed to focus on them in teams.
There are a lot of reasons for the team’s focus on open loops and there’s an intuitively simple one: a bad team habit creates collective frustration, suffering, friction, or inefficiency precisely because it’s a collective action.
It’s one thing for an individual to do something stupid or wasteful; it’s quite another for a whole team to do it, knowing that they’re going to do the same thing the next time the conditions that fire the team habit are in play.
The point isn’t to go super deep into changing team habits – especially since y’all know I’m finishing the book on it over the next month – but to get you thinking about the team habits you want to reinforce and change as many of us are transitioning from summer mode into fall mode at work.
Two questions, then:
- What one good team habit do you want to illuminate, appreciate, and reinforce?
- What one bad team habit do you want to illuminate, discuss, and start the process of changing?
Suggestion: think small. For instance, you don’t need to change your entire meeting structure or play mind games with your teams by making meeting lengths 42 minutes rather than an hour. You can simply reserve the last five minutes of the call to clarify next actions, responsibilities, and follow-on discussion points.
Or if you already have the last five minutes for that kind of activity, you can call it out and comment on how it helps you feel some peace and clarity at the end of meetings. If this conversation is resonating with you, click here to get notifications about Team Habits as it comes along.