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Everyone seems to have a different idea about habits, what they are, and what’s important. But many agree that people with good habits seem to perform better than those with poor habits. So, does the same concept apply to businesses and teams? I believe so. I see groups with strong and effective team habits perform better than those with poor habits. Or no habits.

What is a team habit? It’s a phrase that is thrown around some, but I’m not sure that anyone has done a particularly noteworthy job of defining it. I’ll suggest that we look at team habits as ways of working that we do consistently, without fail. In other words, it’s a habit – whether it’s a daily standing meeting or brushing your teeth.

If a team delivers something of value to the client every other Friday, that’s a habit. If a team delivers work when it’s ready, that’s not a habit. When teams think about risks when a catastrophe occurs, that’s not a habit. But having a risk assessment meeting every week is a habit. You get the picture.

I’ll further suggest that adopting some effective team habits can drive success in your organization and for your projects.

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Here are four areas to consider.

1. Commit to a serious understanding of your project charter details.

Starting your projects wisely can set your project up for success. So, what team habits can you embrace to improve success?

Consistently focus on developing a compelling ‘why?’ statement for each project.

No, it won’t be a regular weekly or monthly event, but you can consistently require that each project team commit to creating those statements.

Define your organization’s required charter details.

Every organization is different, and every project is different. Some projects need to be more defined than others. For example, construction projects require considerable scoping and scheduling, while technology projects or change initiatives might be handled in a more agile way. But you can, as an organization be consistent in how you approach deciding what is needed before you begin project execution. For example, will you consistently spend time defining assumptions, constraints, and/or risks before you begin execution? Will you consistently require a project charter? Will you consistently begin a work breakdown structure, showing the defined scope, using some form of software?

2. Treat risk management as a core value in your organization.

I’ve written before about the secret sauce behind risk management and how to go about identifying, assessing, and managing risks. It’s easy to overlook risk management if you don’t build the habit of doing it regularly. And while project managers tend to focus on the risks to their project, the organization should be thinking about all the risks that the organization is facing – and having a plan for managing those risks.

Some groups are more risk averse than others. Some organizations barely think about risk. That’s a mistake. Risk management is a process that requires that we develop lateral vision – as opposed to tunnel vision. It’s about spotting the unknown unknowns around us. How can you create better team habits around risk management?

In her book, Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life, Gillian Tett talks about the need to bring an anthropological lens to business. This allows us to better understand consumers, markets, competition, industries, and our project investments. This kind of vision is needed to identify the risks around us. I recommend her book, but if your bedside table is piled too high, check out my book review on Anthro-Vision.

3. Focus on continually improving your meetings.

For most organizations, meetings are a fact of life.  Those who follow the Smart Projex methodology and set up their projects wisely, will build in several meeting habits. For example, recurring and frequent standing meetings and checkpoint meetings, perhaps every two to three weeks. The agendas for these meetings are defined and consistent – ensuring, for example, that risks are managed, activities are well-defined before the work begins, and value is delivered to the client consistently.

But there are other team habits you can adopt to make your meetings more successful. Once a quarter, decide as a group on the one thing you can do to take your meetings to the next level. Some say that it takes 21 days to build a habit. I’ve never found that to be enough time. Give yourself several months.

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4. Prioritize a focus on the work defined in the sprint.

Does your team trudge along on any open project activities, or does it have a clear vision of exactly what needs to be finished by a certain date? Some project managers rely on deadlines to keep their teams moving forward – and assign a deadline to each activity. I find that fewer deadlines and a relentless drive to finish the work defined in the sprint works better.

So, what are the work habits that you can adopt that will help you focus on the work in the sprint? Anyone who works from home understands that the laundry, dishes, bills, and children don’t go away when you have a deadline. Yes, you can delay some of these for a few days, but sooner or later, you need to buy groceries, or cut the grass.

I recommend that you block out the specific time you plan to work on sprint needs on your calendar. Only you and your team know whether the sprint commitments require seven hours a day or four hours a week. Remember that not everyone is fully committed to a particular project. And when you block out the time and see all of your other conflicts, you may realize that something needs to change.

If the time is booked on your calendar, the work is more likely to happen, and at least your calendar will show as busy when someone wants to schedule an appointment with you. And if you are putting the air hockey with beer games on your calendar, why wouldn’t you put your sprint work on your calendar?

Individuals on the team may have different blocks of time committed to the sprint, depending on their needs. I find that it helps when there is a good chunk of time when everyone on the team is working on the sprint activities at the same time. That way, collaboration can be more immediate.

Want to know more about the Smart Projex methodology?

Are your team habits helping you find success? OR have you never even thought about adopting some team habits? If you are in the latter category, you might enjoy learning more about the Smart Projex methodology, which focuses on a number of these concepts. Check out my book here.

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