More Than a Recurring Meeting: Habits Involving More Than One Person

I had a comment from a previous post about habit development from a colleague. How to help others develop habits that are not necessarily as internally motivated. This is a tricky, complex thing and I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers.  There are some theories about what works for differently motivated people, and I suggest some ideas below that have helped either myself or those I’ve worked with. There is also the subtlety of whether you seek to motivate peers or direct reports.

In either case, there are a few preconditions that should exist before any attempts to create a “habit” with others.  It certainly helps to have leadership alignment. If everyone’s boss also sees the value in the work you’re doing, so much the better.

Creating buy-in from your coworkers is the largest part of the work, whether you are working with someone or trying to lead a team. The habit needs to have value for two people, the underlying purpose needs to matter to everyone (This is particularly true for me as a Questioner – I’m a bit biased).  It is harder to just force a habit and expect long term benefits someday, because now you have to compete with the demands on two or more peoples time. If you find a way to make life better, eliminate a source of frustration or pain, simplify a process – all of these are good reasons to come together. I can’t tell you what the reason is that will motivate your co-workers because it is specific to your situation and relationship – ask the other person. You can be upfront about it…how do we make this work for you? Without this, you may get people to show up, but you are leveraging your relationship with them, and this is not necessarily a good long term strategy.

Recently, my colleagues and I have found increasing value in our regular meetings and working sessions because we are working to improve our process, keep everyone engaged in upcoming changes, and ensure everyone has a say in how we do our work. When we all want to be there because there is value, moving forward is much easier than the inertia when there is no habit, no ritual.

Once the hard work of getting everyone to see value in the work and to agree to commit time to it, you can start looking at some principles of habit development. They can be employed to keep things moving, fun, or interesting for both parties.

Anchor habit: a way to create habit strength by picking one thing to commit to that makes it easier to stick with other habits. For instance, if you meet to review safety concerns and all the same people are in the room, it could also be tthe time to review reliability action items (not hijacking the agenda, but piggybacking).  Generate momentum this way.

A spoon full of sugar: include items that could be considered task-oriented with something more fun.

External Accountability: Some people like to see progress and so a visual tracking system can be useful. Maybe some healthy competition can help. Knowing you are meeting someone else and they are counting on you can be enough for some one. Showing up regularly to work with someone can do two things: encourage their habit by accountability and demonstrate how you value the work as well.

I find most people I work with have a high degree of personal accountability and so don’t need tricks to complete work. Sometimes it can be the difference between making something on the important list get put on the urgent list as well.  (Though the long game is rarely about urgency.)

If you are a supervisor, freeing up time for people and protecting that time, despite other urgent demands, will mean your team knows that work is valued. Otherwise it can be seen as lip service (this is a whole other topic).

In conclusion: know why, show up, add value and then be diligent about the habit you develop with your colleagues.

Any ideas or stories of what’s worked for you?