Your Team Plays Like It Practices (For Better or Worse)

“Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi

“We’ll wait a couple minutes to see if anyone else shows up.”

Sound familiar?

At first blush it’s pretty innocuous. How big a deal is it to wait a few minutes to ensure everyone is in the meeting before starting it?

Human beings get better at the stuff they do the most. It’s how our brains operate — the more you take a certain action the more the neural pathways needed to take that action strengthen. That’s why the idea of practice is something every middle school band teacher to every professional athlete knows is important. We’re used to thinking of practice as being the domain of specific skills like learning an instrument or landing a triple axel but it’s actually far more encompassing than that.

Every action we take in every aspect of our lives is us practicing at doing that thing even better. This is great when it’s something awesome like jamming some Mozart or delivering a great presentation. It’s not so great when the thing you’re getting good at is starting meetings late or procrastinating or avoiding needed conversations.

Practice something enough, either consciously or subconsciously, and you’ve built yourself a habit (hopefully a good one but commonly a bad one). You are building a specific skill set every time you do anything. Any and every of a million thoughts and behaviors you partake in consciously and subconsciously at work are fair game for strengthening through practice.

And starting that meeting late while you wait for the latecomers?

That’s a whole room of people practicing the idea that meetings start whenever. It’s also a whole room of people who are practicing a behavior related to not respecting the value of their colleagues’ time and that if you’re important enough you can steal time from other people in an organization (because that’s what a late start to a meeting actually is).

“Organizations and nations don’t change — only individuals change.” — George Land and Beth Jarman

Nobody is doing this maliciously but the end result is the same. Think about what you would do if someone actually verbalized these intentions. You’d be showing them the door quick as could be. But because these behaviors aren’t announced we all carry on like nothing is seriously broken and that we aren’t actually laying a foundation or building habits that are counterproductive to running a seriously high functioning organization.

Talk is cheap. Action is what matters.

At the end of the day, everything we call organizational culture is the slow accumulation of individual behaviors and decisions. All individual behaviors and decisions — not just the good ones or the ones you were aware of taking. All of them.

Your culture is built by meetings that don’t start on time, behaviors that aren’t checked, by accountabilities broken, and by what people are incentivized and punished for doing. Slowly and nearly imperceptibly over time the people in an organization are becoming experts at a certain way of operating. The only way to start changing it is by the same way it was created in the first place — by making infinitesimally better decisions, by practicing better, every day.

Luckily, every single decision is an opportunity to practice the right thing.

What are you going to do now that you’ve finished reading this?

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