Two Perspectives on Work Habits
Or: What we Can Learn from Understanding the Differences Between How We See Ourselves and How Others See Us
Recently, a colleague sent round a link to an excellent blog post by Tim Urban about Why Procrastinators Procrastinate.
In true procrastinator style, instead of doing what I should have been doing, I was distracted by the post; I started thinking about whether procrastination was really a bad thing. Now there is a circular reference: procrastinating about procrastination.
A quick consultation with Dr Google turned up some (ahem) inspiring information about desirable Work Habits, ones that, apparently, we should all strive to offer our employers…
Having been thoroughly depressed by such shallow advice, I was interested to discover a series of blog posts by Gretchen Rubin where she explores different Work Habits and postulates that when it comes to work habits, there’s no single right approach for creativity or productivity, just what works for each individual. She highlights the fact that in many ways, we are all alike — but our differences are very important. The better you understand yourself, and your colleagues, the easier it will be to start working better as a team.
Thanks to some unrelated lines of research I was exploring at the time (more procrastination?), I was aware of some studies suggesting that Self-Awareness, Empathy and Social Skills are 3 of the elements of Emotional Intelligence, and a high degree of these elements contribute to being a great leader.
Putting these two thought journeys together, I devised an experimental workshop for the Scrum Master Team at NewVoiceMedia with the following aims:
- To ask my colleagues to exercise Self Awareness by identifying themselves with a defined set of Work Habits
- To ask them to exercise Empathy by categorising their peers within these Work Habit categories
- To ask them to practice their Social Skills by discussing the resulting matrix with their peers
The format was simple;
A matrix was drawn on a white board with a defined set of Work Habits in rows, and the names of the participants as columns.
Each participant had 4 green sticky notes on which to write their own Work Habits (these were kept secret so as not to prime their peer assessments)
The Work Habits were shown on slides;
Each participant had enough yellow sticky notes to write what they perceived as the Work Habits for their peers, and these were added to the matrix. The option was given to put a question mark, if they really had no awareness of a person’s Work Habit in a particular category.
Once the yellow sticky notes were up, then the Scrum Masters put their green ones onto the matrix.
The key was to encourage everyone to use their instinct, their gut feeling, rather than over-analysing their choices. We don’t exhibit the same behaviours all the time, so it is easy to find examples of more than one, but we were looking for the sense of a predominant behaviour. Keeping the first two sections of the workshop time-boxed and moving at a brisk pace helped achieve this, as it gave little room to spend very long thinking about the categorisations.
My first thought was “That is a lot of sticky notes!” – Post-It ® will be pleased!
But some really interesting patterns emerged…
For a start, there were several “Snap” scenarios – for instance in all but one sticky note, all of my peers perceived my Work Habits to be the same ones I identified with. I will be honest, I didn’t expect that! As a Remote Worker I assumed that my Work Habits might be obscure to my on-site colleagues. I suggested that perhaps I was just hopelessly transparent, but one of my colleagues countered with the idea that there is a level of confidence required to do your own thing in your own way, and perhaps I was just very honest about my behaviours. An interesting perspective, which I will consider further, on my next journey of procrastination, perhaps. The astute ones amongst you will have noticed that neither I nor my peers perceive me as a procrastinator, which throws the theme of this blog into question J
Moving quickly onto the discussions that followed…
We had instances of “The Man of Mystery” where question marks indicated that their peers didn’t really understand an aspect of a person’s work habits. Interestingly this could be a result of our nascent adoption of a DevOps approach, and highlighting the divide that still exists at present.
We had instances of “The Ostrich” where all of their peers thought one thing, and the person themselves thought another. This lead to discussion about the difference between how we think we behave, and what we project to others. There was a discussion about the language we use, and how it is often easy for people to accept the words, and be blinded to the action.
We didn’t really have an example of “The Confetti Monster” where everyone thought something different. This perhaps indicates a level of maturity in our Scrum Master Function where we understand each other, to a reasonable extent at least!
We then looked along the rows of the matrix and discussed the mix of Work Habits in our Scrum Master team. The variety was considered to be a valuable asset, different people with different approaches enrich our options and challenge our thinking.
In terms of achieving the aims of the session, I sought feedback from the participants of the workshop.
The Self Awareness section was thought provoking. There was plenty of squirming as we tried to fit ourselves into the categories. It was described as an interesting introspection exercise, and the categories were considered helpful in concentrating thinking on specific areas of working habits.
In terms of Empathising, the team resorted to the “?” option only rarely, and seemed fairly confident in attributing the Habits to their peers. The structure of the workshop caused people to think about their peers in slightly different contexts to usual, which was considered insightful.
The Social Skills aspect of the workshop was incredibly successful. Lots of banter, laughter and honesty was evident, and genuine interest in each other’s opinions, and offers of supportive suggestions for change. This part of the workshop was considered really worthwhile, and something to which everybody contributed useful input. Overall this might imply that the team are exhibiting behaviours congruent with the Norming stage of Tuckman’s team development model.
The feedback suggested that this was a very positive exercise, and the format helped to generate an atmosphere of confidence and safety; there was no need for the results to be anonymised, and when a couple of outlying results were identified the people responsible for giving them were happy to expand their reasons.
Overall we agreed that we liked Gretchen Rubin’s categorisation of Work Habits, because they avoided negative connotations. We did have a conversation about whether “Rebel” was the exception to this, wondering if having someone who “resists all expectations” was really a benefit to the team. It was, however, suggested that perhaps when a whole team is blocked in their thinking, and burning effort without result, a rebel may just say “Stuff this” (or words to that effect) and set off in another direction, which may unblock the team.
There was much amusement about Steven being awarded the one and only “Rebel” but when we dug into it, we realised that this was more to do with his choice of technology than anything else.
“Rebel without an Evernote Account” would have been a very different film.