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How to Change Your Team’s Bad Habits

By Jessica Wishart

    Fri, Aug 16, 2019 @ 11:02 AM Accountable Leaders & Teams

    I recently heard Charles Duhigg, author ofteam's bad habits the best seller The Power of Habit, speak about the science behind his book. It’s really fascinating how our brains work, and how we can use his work to create healthier habits for ourselves and for our teams. We all know that change is hard, and changing behaviors that have become automatic (aka habits) is even harder.

    Think for a minute - what is one bad habit you wish you could change about your team? Here are some common examples:

    • Interrupting each other
    • Copying everyone on every email
    • Gossiping
    • Procrastinating
    • Having too many meetings or meetings that last too long

    I’m sure you are getting the idea, and you probably have a little list going in your head for some of the team habits you’d like to break. The good news is that you can change habits - even the most ingrained ones. The bad news is that it will take some work and experimentation on your part.weekly team meetings

    Duhigg teaches that all habits are composed of a three part loop: a cue (or a trigger), the behavior, and the reward. You will not be able to stop your team from exercising the bad habit, but you can experiment with changing these three elements to create some healthier habits for your team instead.

    Let’s take the example of interrupting each other - what if you were able to replace that bad habit with a healthy habit of active listening? In order to do that, you’d need to break the team’s current habit down into the 3 parts:

    Cue: what triggers people on the team to interrupt each other? When it happens, pull out a piece of paper and jot down the answers to these questions:

    1. What time of day is it?
    2. Where’s the interruption taking place?
    3. Who are the people involved?
    4. What are they feeling?
    5. What are some preceding events or habits?

    After tracking this for a few days, some patterns will likely emerge that may indicate what is triggering the team’s interrupting habit. Remain open to the fact that you may be triggering the interrupting by a habit of your own. For example, if you get impatient with people or after a certain amount of time, the team may take your cue that it’s time to move on and start interrupting each other.

    You might have several hypotheses for what cues your team members to interrupt, and you might try some experiments to see what helps. If you find that most of the interrupting happens in the afternoon, schedule morning-only meetings for a week and see if that improves. If you notice it only happens in conversations when people in the room begin to feel frustrated, you might need to provide some skills for having difficult conversations (like Crucial Conversations).

    Behavior: If experimenting with the cues doesn’t help, think about how you might change the behavior itself. Does your team have the skills needed to listen rather than interrupt? What could they do instead of interrupting when they have the urge? Do you need to implement some kind of “talking stick” or hand raising protocol to provide a visual cue or framework for changing the behavior.

    Reward: What do people on your team get out of interrupting? Do they get to have the last word or make sure their point was heard? How can you give them this reward without the bad behavior? How can you shape the healthier habit you want to develop by rewarding the team when they listen well? Rewards in this sense should be subtle - we’re not talking incentivizing people with a trip, it could be a smile, or a nod when a person on the team shows restraint.

    Test out variations on the habit loop until you create a routine for the team that works better.

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