Build better team habits by starting small

If you want your team to collaborate better, you don’t always need huge, sweeping changes to make a difference. Often, small tweaks in the way that we work together can have a big impact.

Here are some examples:

Check-ins and checklists

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande reported how three hospitals saw similar positive results when medical teams were reminded, via a pre-surgery checklist, to take a minute to chat and introduce themselves before operating on a patient. Gawande explained that although this might seem obvious, it was novel for the world of surgery, which is often “regarded as an individual performance – the surgeon as virtuoso”.

This ‘check-in’ did two things: 1) encouraged people to speak up more and offer solutions during the operation, and 2) improved teamwork and communication. Not only did the process help to avoid a number of critical mistakes in the operating theatre, overall staff satisfaction increased as a result.

Break time at the same time

Margaret Heffernan’s Beyond Measure: The Impact of Small Changes is a look at how it’s the small, everyday habits in organisations that build culture and social capital. Heffernan references a study by MIT’s Alex Pentland where he suggested that, in order to improve productivity, a call centre manager adjust his team’s schedule so that they all took their coffee break at the same time.

Pentland’s previous research had shown the teams that socialise together away from their work were more productive, and it worked in this case too. Productivity increased, reducing the call centre’s Average Handling Time (a key measure for call centres) by 8%. The manager was so impressed with the results that he employed this tactic across 10 more call centres with 25,000 staff.

Tweak, experiment, and then tweak again

If you’re in any doubt of how tiny changes can make a massive difference, take inspiration from the British cycling team and “marginal gains”.Their Performance Director, Dave Brailsford, believed that making 1% improvements across a range of cycling-related areas, would lead to success when accumulated. He was right. By making small changes to equipment, diet, and even the way the team slept and washed their hands, they hit their goal of winning the Tour de France, and much more.

The lesson to take from these examples, is to look at your team as a constant work in progress. We can make small changes to our process and experiment with our routine to see what works. Don’t underestimate how little shifts can bring great results.

Related read: Team habits, routines and rituals

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