Team habits, routines and rituals

Habits have become a hot topic and we’ve learnt a lot about how to successfully create ones that stick. We know that we can’t just rely on willpower; that it takes considerable effort to form a habit; and that the best way to create a new habit is to stack it with an existing one (for more on this, James Clear’s articles are a good place to start). Now we’re taking what we know about effectively losing weight and getting healthier, and applying it to the professional world as people strive to be more productive and effective in their work.

There’s been explorations of the habits and routines of highly creative minds such as Maya Angelou, Benjamin Franklin, and Beethoven in the hope that we might be able to emulate them. What’s become clear is that habit formation is a deeply personal activity – people understanding how and when they work best and being consistent. “Showing up” is the main thing – the content and quality will come later.

The habits of high-performing teams

If it’s so challenging for us to change our own behaviour, perhaps it’s even harder for a team to create new behaviours to help them achieve better collaboration and creativity. But there are things high-performing teams do time and time again to produce the high-quality results that they do. In a review of Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book “Powers of Two” on the Farnam Street blog, Shane Parrish focuses on the rituals that successful duos – like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Lennon and McCartney, Braque and Picasso – have had, starting with the simple meeting all the way through to shared languages that seem indecipherable to those outside of the partnership.

This is more than just putting a group of talented people together – in fact, the individual IQ of team members has no impact on how smart the team will be. The Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT found that the best teams do four things consistently: they communicate frequently, listen and talk in equal measure among team members; engage in frequent informal communication; and explore for ideas and information outside the group. Great collaboration doesn’t have to be a happy accident.

How do you create team habits?

Your team will no doubt have habits in place already, and it’s worth reviewing them to make sure they’re still serving their purpose. For example, think about when and how you run your regular meetings. Is this really the best method for the way that your team works, or is it just the way things have always been done?

A process for creating new team habits for better collaboration might look a bit like this:

  1. Create a shared understanding of what good collaboration looks like, and what it will help your team to achieve (in other words, why you’re creating habits around this). Consider how it applies to your work and what you need to get done.
  2. Review current team behaviours and identify what is, and is not, working. What should you ‘start, stop and continue’?
  3. Together, design new processes and activities that will create the new habits, bearing in mind the different personalities on the team and the way that you all work best. A bit of knowledge around behaviour change and developing habits is useful here. For example, as part of his Tiny Habits programme BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at  Stanford University suggests starting small and using your environment to make it easier to do good habits or harder to do bad habits.
  4. Test and iterate. Regular feedback and review is important to adapt what isn’t working, show the progress made and celebrate success.

Also consider how workspace design and technology can be used in the long-term. We know that Steve Jobs designed the Pixar offices to create serendipitous meeting spots that would enhance collaboration. The story of the fast-growing Slack HQ app also shows that intuitive (and addictive) technology has a key part to play.

Rather than just re-creating routines of successful teams, we should take inspiration from the way that they work, particularly in their consistency. Understanding how to change behaviour is more powerful than copying a specific habit itself, as well as knowing that it takes time and needs review on a regular basis to ensure that it’s still working. This gives your team an ongoing tool to make lasting change.

Thank you to Tony Reeves for feedback on an earlier version of this post.

Image credit: Simon Law on Flickr

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