In a previous post, I discussed a tendency for startup teams to be blindly optimistic.
So today I’m going to share a simple exercise to help check our blind spots when taking decisions.
We start by asking ourselves…
… how do we tend to react by default?
Understanding our default behavior provides critical details on who we are, what we stand for, and how we behave in our job.
It helps us acknowledge where we stand, and whether we’re going in the desired direction. By reflecting upon our natural tendencies, we shine a light onto behaviors that we don’t usually notice. It allows us to make corrections to subconscious actions.
For example, I once asked my team: “what is the first thing that you do when you get to work and why?”
To which a team member responded: “I check my emails to check for any fires to fight, but I really should review and adjust my to-do list before reacting to anything…” Simply thinking about something that is more or less a habit can trigger a correction.
To paraphrase famed author David Foster Wallace, a fish may not even know what water is, being surrounded by it since birth. Similarly, there are so many elements in our day-to-day that require our active focus that we may not know how our subconscious is behaving. Personally, I had a tendency to hyper-focus on my work and neglect chats I receive throughout the day, leading some people to think that I don’t care about them. I only realized it after a team member joked about the situation over lunch, after which I became more aware of my chats throughout the day.
In the context of an organization (or a team), default tendencies act as a reflection of its culture. A proactive diagnosis thus helps to ensure that the team’s culture is aligned with its desired culture.
To diagnose my team’s tendencies, I like to first recognize three entities including:
- The team;
- The team leadership; and
- The team’s relation with other teams.
Next, I ask each team member to reflect on the tendencies and behaviors from these three perspectives. Specifically, I ask: “In your perception, what does the team or the team leadership…” OR “In your perception, when collaborating and working with other teams, what do we…”
- “…enjoy spending their time on?”
- “…don’t enjoy spending time on?”
- “…excel in?”
- “…repeatedly fails to achieve?”
- “…never get the time to do?”
- “…usually ask about?”
- “…not ask about?”
- “…forget about?”
- “…get confused by?”
Compiling results from all team members provides us with a comprehensive picture of our tendencies, our blind spots, and our culture in general. Our goal is not to judge, but to effectively observe differences.
Next, we need to ensure that our culture is moving in the right direction. I thus pull all team members together and review whether each trait is desirable or not. In the case that it is not, we try and identify ways to actively remind ourselves of our bias and compensate for it. For example, if we have a tendency to avoid working with other teams, we could compensate by first asking “Does any other team need to be involved?” before kicking off any new projects.
How often should we assess our tendencies? I recommend performing this exercise every quarter or two. Culture is slow to change.
I do advocate for someone to act as a culture champion to hold people accountable to any tweaks and changes we decide to pursue. In the example above, a champion would praise people when they remember to consider whether other teams need to be involved in a project, and reprimand when we fail to do so.
In my opinion, success does not translate into achieving our dream culture, but very much being conscious of our existing culture. Simply being aware our biases, weaknesses, and tendencies helps to avoid taking decisions blindly.
The next time that we’re faced with a decision, let’s analyze our immediate response (default tendency) and then take a day to think and see if we change our opinion. Is our default state of mind limiting our abilities?
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