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Team Habits: The Missing Link for Business Transformation

Team Habits transform Business & Culture

By Mark Samuel –

Most team consultants talk focus on individual habits, styles of communication, and personal accountability, but hardly anyone ever mentions team habits.

“I felt like I was banging my head against a wall the last two years. We’ve implemented team building programs, Agile processes, and competency-based training, but while a few pockets of improvements have been noticed, there is nothing that significantly “moved the needle” for our business and our culture.”

Sound familiar? This is a common sentiment and frustration of business leaders who have a vision for a breakthrough change but can’t seem to mobilize others to make it happen.

So what is the missing piece that popular programs don’t offer that prevents business leaders from achieving business and culture transformation quickly, effectively, and with sustainable measurable results?

The answer is team habits for collective execution – the way groups of people work together to achieve desired outcomes. Collective Execution goes beyond raising awareness about the value of teamwork, improving processes, or engaging employees at all levels. Collective Execution is determined by the deliberate team habits that are established and measured by leadership teams, department teams, and project teams to optimize business outcomes given the realities of each organization’s constraints.

Why Haven’t I Heard of Team Habits Of Collective Execution?

Through our work with business teams over the last 35 years, we here at IMPAQ have proven that team habits of collective execution are the one implementation that creates the quickest, most sustainable business and culture transformation for our clients, including organizations with as many as 5,000 employees. So why do team habits continue to be ignored by most consultants and programs?

Because adopting team habits of collective execution requires an end to the blame game, an end to focusing on past breakdowns, and a paradigm shift acknowledging that the “feel good” training and team building programs that have been the status quo of corporate consulting for over 50 years make lots of promises, but rarely deliver meaningful or lasting change. It also requires moving past shallow activities that focus on meaningless measurements and inclusion-based employee engagement programs that don’t actually create more efficiency or trust within and between teams.

Developing Team Habits of Collective Execution requires a level of commitment, practicality, and accountability that constantly links people’s behavior and actions to desired business outcomes. Instead of just using dashboards, metrics, and project plans to measure success, teams are measured based on optimal habits for effectively and transparently sharing information, surfacing and resolving breakdowns without hiding or blaming, and quickly making decisions in an inclusive environment. No longer can organizational politics, favoritism, or hierarchy allow people to drive personal or departmental success over what is best for the organization or to maintain one’s position as “hero” for their department.

Creating and following through on team habits also brings accountability to your values, which become part of those habits, rather than letting them remain as philosophical niceties or idealistic vision statements. Team Habits are a measurable way to keep the organization accountable to those values. Imbedding them into the collective execution of business teams means that those values become lived and measured in service to achieving the organization’s desired business and culture outcomes.

Are Team Habits of Collective Execution A New Technology? 

While team habits of collective execution might be new to business teams, this is exactly what the top athletic teams, music groups and dance companies practice everyday to optimize their performance. They develop agreed upon habits for communicating to each other, coordinating their different roles, surfacing and solving problems, and even recovering when someone makes a mistake. None of those performance behaviors are left to chance.

Unfortunately, the norm in business is far from the excellence experienced by these athletic and artistic teams. Businesses talk philosophy and blame others instead of taking full accountability for creating new habits that will optimize performance. Instead, business leaders try to appease everyone, avoid the difficult conversations, and pretend that accommodating everyone’s different style is the way to achieve excellence. What professional sports, music group or dance company has that approach to performing in front of an audience? None.

Is Teamwork a Habit?

Teamwork itself is a habit that needs to be deliberately practiced. Sports teams and music groups don’t just get on stage or onto the field after practicing independently and hope that they can work together to win a game or deliver a great performance.

They have to actively practice their teamwork, which involves a series of individual team habits decided upon by the team itself based on what they need to accomplish, what they need to improve upon, and what could possibly go wrong. The same goes for business teams, although this is sadly one aspect of business that often gets forgotten. 

Four Steps for Implementing Team Habits in Your Organization

Step 1: Picture of Success for the Future Now

If you were already achieving breakthrough business results, how would your leaders be functioning differently than they ever have before? How would the role of every level of leadership and every department be expanded to keep up with the new business, the new processes, the new technology, or the new customer demands to ensure optimal results?

Step 2: Translate the Picture of Success into Defining New Roles of Leadership at every level

One of the biggest breakdowns of most organizations is that leaders at every level tend to operate at a lower level than their actual level. Executives function more like middle managers, middle managers function like supervisors, and supervisors function like operating leads. You can’t achieve Breakthrough Results and Cultural Transformation until people step up to a new level of inclusion and accountability and become change agents for the new Picture of Success.

Step 3: Translate the Expanded Roles of each Level of Leadership into agreed upon Team Habits 

that will optimize business results given the natural constraints of the organization. This is not a one-size fits all solution. Every organization, and in fact every cross-functional leadership team, needs to collectively determine how to optimize execution and express it in the form of new Team Habits that represent the process and behaviors for optimizing planning, coordination, collaboration, problems solving, communication, and making decisions.

Step 4: Track and Measure the Team Habits, Their Impact on Business Results and their Impact on the Culture

Execution always precedes business results. Even leading indicators for results come from collective execution. Therefore, if you want to get ahead of business breakdowns and cultural toxicity, it comes from the effectiveness of collective execution. Learn to track and improve Team Habits the way athletic teams use “game tapes,” surface practical issues that prevented successful execution, and problem solve those breakdowns on a regular and consistent basis.

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