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Getting your team to change old habits

January 15, 2018

4 min read: Rosie, a new venue manager for a large theatre, was frustrated with the length of time it took for her team to turnaround the space in the main auditorium. 

 

The auditorium is used for a spectrum of events, from slimming club meetings, to major rock concerts.  After every event the auditorium is emptied and set up in a different way for the next user, and completing the turnaround took a long time because of the way in which the seating, tables, lighting and other equipment were stored. On average, it was taking the team 7 or 8 hours to do a turnaround, which meant there was very little time left for other work within the theatre, so the list of general maintenance tasks was growing.   

 

Rosie observed the team during several turnarounds and saw them double handling equipment, by moving it from one part of the space to another so that they could get access to seats that were stored at the back, and then moving it all back in again.   The equipment store was chaotically organised, with lots of redundant equipment and furniture.  For example, there was a broken chair that the team were holding onto, with the intention of getting time to repair it one day.  The chair had been there for ten years!  In amongst this, there were also six overflowing rubbish bins that were hardly ever emptied, adding to the chaos.

 

Rather than make assumptions, Rosie spent time with the team to understand why they were doing things the way they did and learned that suggestions to improve the space had been given to previous managers, but nothing had ever happened with them.  The team had never received any pinpointed feedback, on how they were currently doing, so they plodded on in the same way they had for nearly two decades. 

 

She initially set about working with the team to shorten the turnaround time but what she didn’t expect was the wider reaching cultural change she would ultimately get.

 

Firstly, the space needed decluttering but she wanted the team to decide what was to be thrown away.  They then either chose to part with some of the broken equipment they had been hoarding, or actually fix it and put it back into operational use.

 

Next, she asked them how they wanted to organise the space to minimise the double handling and make it more efficient for each turnaround, so they came up with a plan for each piece of equipment to get its own space. 

 

The number of bins were reduced and instead of putting them within the space, Rosie placed the bins close to the exits – the exits the team would use as they popped out occasionally for a smoking break by the rubbish skips at the rear of the building.  By fitting a small additional behaviour into an already established habitual pattern, she made it more likely they would empty the bins.

 

Every team member (including Rosie) was given their own personal to-do list made up of items they were accountable for off the maintenance list, so that as they freed up time on the turnarounds, they could deliver tasks off their personal lists.

 

The result was they saved thousands of pounds in staff time over the course of a year, the space was significantly tidier posing less of a health and safety risk, the team were less frustrated and they carried out more maintenance tasks with the same number of people. 

 

However, the most impressive result was the wider cultural change.  Rosie not only changed an inefficient working pattern that had been followed for almost 20 years but also got the team to problem solve, come up with their own ideas and be proactive.

 

She made it more likely by working with the team to bring about the change, creating an environment full of positive reinforcement.  She made sure that every improvement they made, no matter how small, was recognised and compliments given.  Every time the team made a decision without prompting, she gave more praise.  She wouldn’t allow any negativity either, so when people described all the reasons an idea wouldn’t work, she was relentless in asking them what would work instead.  Every week they had a 15 minute ‘huddle’ which was an additional opportunity to recognise all the achievements they had made the previous week.

 

When I asked her about how she had approached this, she said “I try to kill them with kindness and pestering while joining in, so they can’t moan!”

 

andrea@geelox.co.uk

 

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