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The systems and habits approach to team building

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The systems and habits approach to team building

Scott Miker

Team building is a popular topic for seminars and conferences.  Great leaders want to keep growing their ability to lead and build great teams.  Inexperienced leaders look for a way to get better.

I have been fortunate to attend many of these events and I have also run some myself.  One of the universal criticisms from attendees is that the ideas and motivation seem to fizzle out over time.  They leave motivated but then find themselves back into their normal routine without lasting improvement.

This isn’t just a team-building phenomenon.  This happens everywhere.  It happens because motivation isn’t really as powerful as we think.

We tend to think motivation is more powerful than it is.  The reality is that habit and routine are much more powerful than motivation.  Motivation is fleeting while habit and routine remain. 

I remember hearing someone once talk about strength a little different than I was used to.  The person said that water is much more powerful than the hardest rock on earth.  Immediately I thought this person was crazy.

But their explanation made me realize that I was thinking of strength one way.  I thought of strength in the present moment.  I associated this idea of strength with solid rock.  Rock is tough to break and can break right through other objects.  If I wanted to hammer in a nail and didn’t have a hammer I would reach for a rock, not water. 

But this really is just my perspective and this idea of water being stronger than rock is another perspective.  The example given was the Grand Canyon.  They explained that over time water would cut right through rock.  So if we add in the factor of time, water is much more powerful than rock. 

For most of my life I followed the “rock is strength” idea.  I valued a strong mind and unwavering conviction in an idea.  But I was wrong.  Strength is actually being able to change with new information, not stubbornness. 

When I finally shifted my thinking I realized that time can be leveraged to great success.  We can make small changes and do them over and over again.  With time this becomes a new habit or routine.  Then it becomes powerful.  And to do this isn’t about brute force, it is more about flexibility and being willing to adapt to change. 

So the participants in the team building exercises were on to something.  They were right that this new motivation would run out.  The habits and routines would rule.  

This doesn’t mean that we need more motivation.  Just as the water and rock example showed us that we don’t just need stronger rock.  That part doesn’t matter over time.  With enough time the strong rock will be weathered just as the weaker ones. 

If we want something to stick we have to take the approach like water.  We have to be willing to do something consistently over time; we don’t need big change, we need consistent change.  Just as we can’t grab water, we have to gently cup our hands to hold water; we have to approach improvement in a similar way.  We shouldn’t use brute force to improve.  We should use slow, consistent action. 

The next time you are at a seminar and hear of some great ideas, find one or two small things that you can do consistently over time.  Don’t take on huge changes immediately. 

If there is a big change you want to make, break it down into small parts.  Then tackle the small parts.  Start small with step 1 and work to make that a habit.  Then put a note on your calendar in 2 months to work on step 2 – but only if you are still doing step 1!  If you stopped doing step 1 then start back up with step 1 and move the note to be 2 months later. 

This may not result in an instant shift but it will start to lay the foundation for great change.  Once you master this process it becomes easy.  It becomes second nature to break big goals down into smaller parts and focus on consistently working to improve over time.  This is the antidote to fleeting motivation, to align with the force that overrides motivation…habit.