Avoid Falling Back on Old Patterns

Does this sound familiar?

You’re part of a team, family or group that works well together, for the most part. But you’ve got some relationship dynamics that could be improved.

Maybe you avoid conflict but then let unsaid thoughts and feelings fester. Or habitually find yourselves in a blame-defend dynamic.

Whatever the dynamics, if you could successfully address them, you’d all be getting along great, and you’d accomplish wonderful results together.

But, there’s a catch.

You’ve tried lots of things to address these unhelpful dynamics. You’ve read books, taken training programs, maybe even gotten some kind of counseling. You went away from those experiences determined to change…this time.  And yet you’re just too darned busy and distracted for any new behavior to take hold.

What you need to do is find a reliable way to sustain positive changes in behavior.  Easier said than done, I know. But as I’ve written before, some amazing research is taking place in the social psychology and neuroscience fields that sheds light on how to create enduring change.

Let’s peek in on the efforts of a fictional team as they embark on this journey:

This six-person team has gathered around a conference table accompanied by their team coach. They’ve already talked with the coach about what dynamics are keeping them from being the best team they can possibly be, and what they’ve tried so far to address these.  They’re about to switch gears and reflect on what they already have going for them that they want to strengthen.

Their coach starts them off by talking about something called an “engine for success.” What is an “engine for success”? Put simply, it’s the core of what is working well for any individual, team or organization. It’s something that is not often well-understood or capitalized on. But if you understand what it is, you can consciously strengthen the areas of highest leverage, creating a stronger and stronger virtuous cycle.

The coach asks the team, “What is growing or accumulating within your team?” After some thought, one member offers, “Well, each and every team member is eager to do good work.” The coach writes that up on a flipchart.

Okay,” he says, “And what’s the result from that?”

Someone else says, “Our motivation leads us to want to collaborate so we get the highest quality results.”

The coach adds those comments and creates a loop that looks like this:

The loop is a virtuous cycle, aka “engine for success.” (The “R” in the loop stands for “reinforcing.”)

Next, the team identifies the highest leverage as “motivation to do good work.” That’s where they want to focus their attention since a positive change there is going to create a ripple effect around the loop.

Finally, the team talked about how they could turn “motivation to do good work” into habitual behavior they would practice regularly. Habits are behaviors that become routine and automatic once they are hardwired in the brain. That’s one way to transform an aspiration into sustained practice.

The coach asks, “When you’re having a team meeting and one of you comes up with a new idea, what usually happens?”

“Oh, most of the time, someone else says, ‘Yeah, right. Great idea but it will take a lot of energy to make that happen and we’re just too busy to take it on.’”

“Okay,” says the coach, “how can you translate your motivation to do good work into a routine practice in response to that kind of naysaying?”

“Maybe instead of shooting it down, one of  us could ask, ‘How could we move ahead with this great idea without adding extra time or tasks?’ That could lead directly into the collaboration question: ‘How could we do this together?’”

“That sounds feasible,” the coach responds,  “And then how are you going to remember to ask that ‘How could we’ question instead of reacting with naysaying?’”

So the team decides to put “How could we?” at the top of every one of their team meeting agendas going forward.

Of course, this approach is not a magic bullet for improving serious team dysfunction. But it does have the advantage of capitalizing on what’s already working as well as translating an aspiration into a behavioral routine that can be regularly practiced and passed on.

Key takeaways:

  • Build your engine for success
  • Identify the leverage
  • Find a way to turn that into a new habit that you can practice regularly.

Take a look at the February 2017 blog post for an infographic with more tips on how to build a habit.

While you’re at it, please check out an upcoming program­­–Applied Organizational Learning–that I’m doing with my colleague, Rick Karash. The program focuses on giving you the tools and skills to build a learning organization wherever you are.  We’ll create engines for success and identify leverage. Best of all, we’ll come up with a plan to translate your learning into habits and behaviors you can practice with people in your life…even when you’re busy and distracted.

Reblogged from Reidy Associates

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