How to waste efforts to change team behaviour

Do you want to waste the time, effort, and resources put into trying to change behaviour in your team? Good news – whether it’s changing specific practices or cultural transformation, it’s really easy to ensure that the investment by you and your team will make no long-term difference at all. So, let’s take a closer look at 10 ways to ensure that time and effort to change behaviours will be wasted.

The 10 ways

Based on my research and experience, here are my top 10 ways to waste everyone’s time, energy, and money spent trying to change team behaviour.

  1. Assume it’s easy. Assume you’ve understood the situation perfectly at the outset with only scattered information. Think it’s as simple as asking people to do the new behaviour. Don’t involve others because you feel so confident.
  2. Crowd it out. Don’t schedule, allocate or authorise time for it – just expect them to fit the change in somehow. Even better – pile on extra work. Ensure no one can justify taking time for the new behaviour.
  3. Forget about it. Tell them once, but never remind them. Workshops are perfect as most of the content can be quickly forgotten. Create plenty of distractions. Don’t persistently talk about it and never help to create conversations about it.
  4. Set up bad payoffs. Keep the immediate payoffs for the old behaviour clear, certain, immediate, and valuable. Make the payoffs for the new behaviour unclear, uncertain, far into the future, and not very important. That will make the old behaviour more preferable.
  5. Make it feel pointless. Don’t share the vision that you’ll reach with the new behaviour. Make it seem like a pointless behaviour that requires meaningless effort. You can also distract people away from authentic reasons to engage in it by using incentives. This way, the new behaviour will seem to have little value.
  6. Make it difficult. Make sure the old behaviour is still really easy compared to the new behaviour. Try to make the new behaviour difficult, complex, and frustrating. Don’t change anything to make the old behaviour any harder.
  7. Give no support. Refrain from supporting the new behaviour or facilitating practice with it, especially at first. Practice workshops, one-to-one support, or follow-up groups – avoid them all. Try to make people feel like it’s all up to them and they’re on their own with it. Say they need to “own it”.
  8. Ignore successes. If and when people do the new behaviour, take it for granted. Don’t show appreciation. If you can’t ignore it, highlight what’s not perfect. Don’t share positive examples with the team to help inspire and motivate.
  9. Create a poor fit. Ensure the new behaviour is inconsistent with everything else that goes on so that nothing reinforces it over time. Make sure no existing behaviours or practices might accidentally help to fuel the new behaviour.
  10. Wear blinkers. Don’t learn anything from experience or feedback. Don’t ask for feedback, and ignore any you get. Stick to your original plan, don’t adapt it, and don’t let the team adapt it either. Block organic improvements with red tape and paperwork.

Often, ticking only one or two of these will lead your change initiative to failure. To improve your chances, though, try to tick off as many as you can.

How they prevent change

In order to fully grasp why these strategies to waste your efforts to change team behaviour are so effective, it’s important to first understand what factors contribute to successful behaviour change initiatives. As someone who has spent more than a decade researching this topic, I have identified some key principles based on findings from neuroscience and psychology that I’ve outlined in this article and this article.

It all comes down to why people engage in new behaviours. In the moment they engage in a behaviour, three key prerequisites are always met:

  • Opportunity – Being able to do it
  • Activation – Thinking about it
  • Preference – Wanting to do it

Successful behaviour change initiatives take steps to make each of those become reinforced over time. If those three factors become stronger and stronger, the desired behaviour will ultimately become more ingrained and stable over time. Conversely, if any factors become weaker and weaker, the behaviour will fade away.

So, by ensuring these factors weaken over time, you can prevent real change in your team. That’s how you can ultimately waste the time, effort, and resources that you put into trying to change team behaviour.

Or, of course, you could invest your efforts more smartly to reinforce these factors and not see your time, effort, and resources go to waste.

Have you seen any of these 10 ways being implemented? How did it end up? How do they fit with your experience, and what have I missed? Hopefully you found this satirical post both humorous and informative. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to Nick Petrie for inspiring this article with his great post: A path to burnout.

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Drawing on over a decade of research into the science of how individuals, leaders, and teams work best, Reuben is a trusted advisor and partner for navigating complex challenges. His articles distil complex ideas and present practical insights, so you don't have to do the research yourself. With an authentic approach and genuine empathy for his clients, Reuben is a valuable asset to any organisation.

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