Author Charlie Gilkey Discusses Hidden Habits to Help Teams Thrive in the New Workplace

By Greg Grzesiak Greg Grzesiak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 16, 2023

No matter the size of your company, you probably spend 80 percent of your workdays with the same four to eight people. And regardless of what the org chart says, those people are your true team, whether it’s in-person or remote.

So says author and productivity expert Charlie Gilkey: if you want to better your work life, begin by bettering your team — and how you work together. Or what Gilkey calls your “team habits.”

Before Gilkey started Productive Flourishing, his Portland, Oregon-based coaching and training company, he served as a joint force logistics officer in the U.S. Army while also working on his Ph.D. in philosophy. Today, he humorously describes himself this way: “If a mad scientist were to do a freak experiment and cross a philosopher, entrepreneur, and military officer, I’d be what popped out of the tube. Then, in my own weird way, I’d help him make me even better.”

Recently, we sat down with Gilkey to discuss his latest book, Team Habits: How Small Changes Lead to Extraordinary Results, including how small but critical behaviors can help teams thrive in the new workplace.

Grit Daily: Let’s start at the top. Why teams — and why now?

Charlie Gilkey: The pandemic was a game-changer in how the world thinks about work and collaboration. Sure, teams have always been the backbone of any organization. But the recent shifts in work environments have made effective teamwork more critical than ever before. Both remote and hybrid models of working, together with the increasingly rapid pace of change, are requiring teams to rise to the occasion. Teams of all types must be more agile, cohesive, productive, and ever-more aligned with their organizations’ goals.

Additionally, the chaos and challenges of the last few years have exposed the cracks in team dynamics. Teams that were functioning adequately in more traditional settings are now struggling in remote or hybrid environments. Yet that same disruption is also a golden opportunity: Teams can rethink and rebuild their habits.

Grit Daily: What exactly do you mean by team habits? And how can they translate into whether a team is working together well or poorly?

Charlie Gilkey: Team habits are the recurring practices and behaviors that dictate how a team functions on a day-to-day basis. They are the building blocks of a team’s culture and their overall productivity and effectiveness. For your own team, think about everything from how you make decisions to how communication flows within the team.

Grit Daily: In your new book, you’ve laid out eight categories of team habits, with each category broken down into many simple bite-sized habits. One of those categories addresses meetings. What are a few specific habits within that category?

Charlie Gilkey: Ah, meetings. For most teams, they are where, in the span of an hour, they can see all their bad team habits — one after another, in rapid succession.

The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.

In Team Habits, I spell out specific habits that can make meetings less painful and more productive. Here are three examples.

Start meetings by sharing non-work wins. Kick-off every meeting by having each person on the team share a recent personal accomplishment. That not only sets a positive tone for the meeting, but also humanizes everyone on the team.

Make a “no agenda, no meeting” agreement. How many times has your team spent the first 15 minutes of a meeting trying to figure out why you’re even there? Instead, create a rule that no one on the team can call a meeting without an agenda or at least a precise issue or question that needs to be addressed.

Capture next steps at the end of every meeting. Too many teams end their meetings abruptly, with people, in their usual rush-rush, assuming everyone is on the same page as to what actions need to be accomplished next — and by whom and when.

Now, obviously, those three team habits aren’t conceptually hard. And perhaps you’ve heard an iteration of them before. The problem, however, is that people don’t practice them consistently enough for them to become habits.

Grit Daily: You urge teams to opt for achieving everyday small wins over attempting to make sweeping changes. What is the key reason for that, especially in a business world biased toward the big stuff?

Charlie Gilkey: I can’t reiterate this enough: Small wins are the unsung heroes of team performance. First, they are manageable and achievable. But they also accumulate over time to generate a lasting, significant impact. Each one, no matter how small it may seem, has the potential to build momentum and boost morale. And that creates a positive feedback loop that encourages even more effort and engagement.

In contrast, most attempts to make sweeping changes are a recipe for disaster. They call for substantial resources — which many times aren’t prioritized or budgeted for by the organization — and frequently end up failing, especially when they’re poorly executed. They also distract teams from performing their core activities and delivering what the organization really needs.

Grit Daily: When your clients complain about their teams, you say that you nip their gripes about specific people in the bud. That seems counterintuitive, considering teams are made up of people.

Charlie Gilkey: Experience has taught me that what was originally labeled as a “people” problem is, in reality, a “habits” problem.

A team with dysfunctional habits can make even the most talented players on the team look like poor performers. So, by and large, when teams choose to change their team habits, they solve problems that were initially said to be about specific people.

Moreover, that approach is not just more effective — it’s more humane. It avoids blaming or shaming individuals and instead focuses everyone on actionable solutions that can advance the entire team.

Grit Daily: You say that every team has the power to create change. But aren’t some teams — or the organizations they work in — beyond hope?

Charlie Gilkey: It’s true that some organizational cultures are incredibly challenging, even toxic. But that doesn’t mean individual teams within those organizations are beyond hope. In fact, by focusing on what your team can control — your own team habits — you can make a meaningful difference, even in the most negative environments.

Also, I’ve seen many cases where the work of individual teams on their own habits has served as a catalyst for broader organizational change. Still, if that doesn’t happen, building a better team makes work a heckuva lot better for everyone on the team.

Grit Daily: If you had to pick the one category of team habits that was most critical — above all the others — what would it be, and why?

Charlie Gilkey: That’s pretty easy — it would be belonging.

Belonging is a team’s superpower, as it’s the glue that holds the team together. It’s also the foundation upon which the other seven categories of team habits are built and fortified.

When team members feel a sense of belonging, they are more engaged and committed, and more likely to go the extra mile for the team. Also, belonging influences everything from trust and collaboration to creativity and innovation. Without it, even a team’s best-laid plans and other positive habits will struggle to take hold.

By Greg Grzesiak Greg Grzesiak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Greg Grzesiak is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and Columnist at Grit Daily. As CEO of Grzesiak Growth LLC, Greg dedicates his time to helping CEOs influencers and entrepreneurs make the appearances that will grow their following in their reach globally. Over the years he has built strong partnerships with high profile educators and influencers in Youtube and traditional finance space. Greg is a University of Florida graduate with years of experience in marketing and journalism.

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