We usually think of habits as being an individual thing. Anything that a team does on a regular basis is called a "process" or a "standard operating procedure." However, there are often small repeatable actions that don't really qualify as processes or procedures but can significantly impact the productivity of your team. By think of these small but important actions as "habits," we can approach them in the ways that make sense for habits for individuals.
In Gretchen Rubin's excellent new book, Better than Before, she points out that habits are really about making a decision once and then not having to decide again. This frees up mental energy and time for more complex or unpredictable things. On a team, having habits in place reduces the amount of back-and-forth and dropped balls, that are so often part of team communications. You probably already have some of these habits in place. If so, it might be worth writing them down in a quick overview document that you can provide for any new team members or even just other colleagues who start working with your team regularly.
Key habits that can help your team be more productive
1. Establish communication protocols that establish expected response times and which channels to use for which types of items. More on why these are important and how to set them up here.
2. Schedule standing meetings that don't move. Having a regular, predictable meeting can streamline communications because your team members can save non-urgent topics for those meetings instead of interrupting you or other members of the team. The key is that these meetings have to be reliable for this to work. Find the day and time that is least likely to conflict with high-priority events like client meetings, and try to avoid canceling or rescheduling those meetings if at all possible. The frequency is less important than their reliability.
3. Develop consistent, simple ways of reporting progress on a weekly basis. One manager just kept a list of major projects by team member on his whiteboard, so in the weekly one-to-one meetings with his employees, he could just go through the list project by project and have the employee update him. If you need or prefer written reports, develop a standard template to make it as easy as possible for employees to document their progress and for you to quickly identify potential issues.
4. Use checklists for repeat projects/events. Hopefully by now you're aware that checklists are a major productivity and quality tool for busy individuals (if not, read the Checklist Manifesto ASAP), but have you identified ways to use checklists as a team? Taking the time to document how things are done will save time and frustration in future iterations of the same task or project.
- Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. This book is a totally different way of looking at habits than most habit books: it covers 21 different strategies that can be effective for habit implementation, and shows how to assess yourself to see which strategies might work best for you. This might help you in improving your own habits, developing good team habits, and even in understanding your employees and their work habits.
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. This book explains how habits work, in a very approachable way. It's a fun read and will help you understand why you do some of the things you do.
- The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. This is a short but powerful book about why everyone, even and perhaps especially very smart people, should use checklists to ensure quality and reduce cognitive load. Save your brain for the important, less predictable stuff by using checklists for the predictable.