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The Number One Team Momentum Killer

The Number One Team Momentum Killer

The biggest problem with team building and change management efforts is that no matter how much ownership your team has at the beginning, they inevitably return to their old habits, losing steam and rendering the effort almost useless. This leaves leaders frustrated and team members discouraged.

But keeping the momentum of a change effort is not only possible; it’s easy if you know what to do and how to avoid the common pitfalls.

The first pitfall is that most leaders don’t consider the natural human response to pressure.

Under pressure, people go back to old habits.

No matter how badly they want to keep up their new habits!

In a workplace environment, pressures abound, things come up, and a change effort often slides into the backseat while the urgency and immediacy of everyday tasks pile up.

So what can we do?

Change Your Habits As a Team, Not As Individuals.

Many leaders make the mistake of trying to hold individuals accountable for new team habits. Unfortunately, this approach comes across as blame or punishment.

If you want to change a team habit, you need to do it as a team, and everyone needs to take individual and collective accountability for that habit. It becomes peer-to-peer accountability, not hierarchical.

Five Steps to Create Team Habits that Stick

Team habits are specific, observable behaviors where the team shares accountability for keeping each other on track. There are five steps to creating ownership and shared accountability for new team habits.

Step 1: Get a clear intention for the new habit.

When creating new habits for do-differently behaviors, it’s important to understand why you’re making the new habits. New team habits should always be based on the shift the team needs to make to accomplish its desired business outcomes in its current environment.

For example, suppose the team often has breakdowns just before a project’s due date. In that case, the new team habit can be surface issues earlier by asking for help and communicating any foreseeable future breakdowns.

Step 2: Outline your basic process/steps as a team.

Habits are action-based. This means that you need a process for doing the habit. It’s not enough to say, “Ask for help earlier.” While that might seem like a clear-enough behavior change, it’s important to create a step-by-step process for how to do that and how the team will respond. For example, the team might decide that as soon as a member senses they won’t be able to deliver on time,  they first surface the issue to the impacted members, secondly agree on how to recover, and third, update the team and discuss alternatives if necessary.

The idea is to have the process laid out so that if anyone needs help, everyone on the team knows what to do and how to respond when someone else needs help.

Step 3: Find out if there are any changes the team needs to make for the new habit to be psychologically safe and practical for everyone.

Surfacing issues with the team might seem straightforward, but not if you have a culture of blame, punishment, or poor communication. Whatever team habit you’re working to change, make sure that people feel safe enough to engage in the new habit.

You might create rules around communication, such as scheduling meetings instead of barging into each other’s offices or speaking calmly rather than in an attacking tone.

There might be a type of communication that works best if time is a factor. For instance, use a text or messaging system rather than email or phone messages.

Step 4: Include Proactive Recovery Plans

No matter how good a team is at adopting new habits and holding each other accountable, a time will come when things seem to fall apart due to unexpected workplace pressures. Instead of attempting to be perfect, incorporate a Proactive Recovery Plan.

A Proactive Recovery Plan is much like having an emergency escape plan. It doesn’t guarantee an emergency will never occur, but everyone is clear on what to do when it does. Instead of trying to keep breakdowns from ever happening, assume that they will happen because that is natural, and agree on how to handle those situations as a team before they arise.

An easy way to create a Proactive Recovery Plan is to anticipate (brainstorm) one or two common situations that could challenge the new habit and decide how you’ll respond. Ask questions like:

  • What is the best way to bring it to the attention of the team or individual involved?
  • How do we support each other in overcoming the challenge and getting back on track quickly?
  • Once we recover, who needs to be informed?

Incorporate the answers to these questions as a part of your new habit.

Step 5: Review habits as a team once a month

Periodically reviewing your new habits as a team keeps the behaviors in front of you until they become your new habits. Look at the habit and ask,

  • Where are we doing well?
  • What elements still need attention?
  • What is one behavior we commit to improving in the next few weeks?

Keeping your desired outcomes in mind, assess how you’re doing as a team and any changes you need to make.

These new habits will quickly begin to replace old responses to pressure. Don’t be afraid of not doing them perfectly. The team only gets stronger when they fall off the wagon and realize they can pick themselves up and quickly get back on track.

This is the missing piece that most organizations neglect when trying to make a behavior change within the team. When leaving individuals to their own devices, they fall back on their habits, which may or may not work well in combination with everyone else’s habits. But when you make habits as a team, you can work together to move toward your goals in a much quicker, more efficient way that eliminates unnecessary breakdowns due to a lack of cohesion among the team. 

Take Your Next Action

Our B STATE consultants have created change with organizations that last 5, 10, or even 20 years down the road, creating significant culture changes within a team or organization that positively affect the bottom line, teamwork and communication, and retention.

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