Working with teams to change the way they deliver is nearly always a challenge. Years of working in an industry has shaped the way we behave, to the point where it almost second nature to continue trends we view as unproductive and risky. We know these things aren’t helping us succeed, but we still do them. It’s almost as if we’re controlled by a power greater than our will, which is in a way actually true.
People are well proven to be creatures of habit. As children our parents strive to instill good habits, and avoid bad. These habits live with us throughout our adulthood defining a lot of what we do, both at home and in the workplace. A great example is the frequency and timing of basic hygiene activities like showering, or brushing your teeth. No matter how much my dentist tells me I need to brush at night nearly 30 years of morning routine continues to this day.
Once we reach our teens we start to take jobs. These slowly consume more and more of our lives until we eventually spend more of our waking hours in the office than we do out of it. This makes the organisation we work within a virtual habit factory. The people around us shape the practices that we are indoctrinated into as part of entry to the company. We accept, and grow into these practices which with time become habits.
It is this collection of practices turned habits that I have started referring to as ‘behavioral debt’. It’s a metaphor that I use when describing how comfortable a team is in their existing practices, and how hard it will be to start the stone of change moving downhill toward a new way of working.