How routines for digital teams can help your organization

We covered the topic of routines for digital teams in a webinar. You will find the most important content in this blog article. You can also watch the recorded webinar here. Have fun!

Routines are familiar to many from private everyday life. Be it coffee in the morning, a short walk in the afternoon or skin care in the evening. How should routines work in the digital team? Actually not so different than in your private life. Because routines are actions that become a habit through frequent repetition. They make everyday life easier by making it more predictable and less strenuous. Are your meetings unstructured, exhausting and chaotic? Do you have to make a new plan every time? Are you just not getting into the flow? Does everyone feel something different? Then routines for digital teams can help you. Here we show you how you can support your team in a meaningful way.

What exactly are routines for digital teams?

Routines work on a simple principle. An action is triggered by a trigger and there is a reward for the action. This becomes clear using the example of e-mail checking. The trigger here is the signal from the cell phone. When you hear that, you’ll probably take out your phone and read the email, that’s the action. You will receive information and contact through this action, which is a reward. This basic principle can be applied to all routines. How long it takes to establish a routine cannot be said exactly. Most studies come to different conclusions. Ultimately, it always depends on the routine, the team and, above all, the motivation.

Don’t confuse digital team routines with rituals, though. In contrast to routines, rituals are emotionally charged and require a lot of energy instead of saving energy. Routines, on the other hand, save energy and happen almost automatically when well established. When sports teams warm up in the locker room before competitions, these are usually very energetic rituals. An energy-saving routine would be more like writing a to-do list in the morning. It is important to be aware of these differences. This is the only way you can be sure that you support your team with routines instead of overwhelming them with rituals in the wrong places.

What are the advantages of routines for digital teams?

Man is simply a creature of habit. When processes are predictable and we know what to expect, that takes the stress out of us and makes our work easier. This is particularly important for digital teams so that the team does not get lost. In addition, it is clear in advance what will happen at your meetings and you can set a framework. Routines for digital teams also demonstrably reduce stress because tasks can be completed on the side. They also increase the resilience of the team because processes are structured and there are therefore fixed points of reference. These not only provide security in crisis situations. Tasks in routines are also generally completed faster. That’s because the process that would normally determine whether the task should be done at all is eliminated. This saves a lot of time and work in the medium and long term.

And why for digital teams in particular?

Like so much that would take place automatically in presence, routines in the digital area must also be created more consciously and artificially. In the digital area, these processes take much longer and may not even take place at all. Therefore, you have to become active as a team leader and consciously introduce and promote routines.

This is worthwhile, among other things, because routines can greatly improve the team spirit. Those who can participate in the routines feel part of the team because they understand the team culture. At the same time, you can differentiate yourself from other teams through routines and create your own team culture. In addition, as a team leader, you can use the routines to check how motivated and committed your team members are. For example, if someone is no longer attending routines like regular meetings, you can reach out to that person. You can identify motivation gaps or other problems early on.

Are routines for digital teams really that simple?

Unfortunately, routines for digital teams aren’t for everyone. They evoke bad feelings in some people and good feelings in others. Be sure to pay attention to your team’s needs and reactions. You should decide on routines together. Establishing this in the team is very exhausting and stressful. Therefore, it relieves the team when there is one person on the team who feels responsible for promoting the routines. This person champions and reminds the routines.

In addition, it takes quite a long time to successfully establish routines for digital teams. It takes even longer to get rid of bad routines. Anyone who has ever tried to kick a bad habit knows that. So remember: routines are easier to replace than just stop with them. Try to find a positive, motivating alternative when you want to get rid of a negative or simply no longer suitable routine in the team.

What can routines for digital teams look like?

The easiest way to implement routines around your meetings. There are three phases to every good meeting: before the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting. Different routines are available in each phase.

Before the meeting

Before the meeting you can arrive 15 minutes before to offer a technical check-up. You can also facilitate “doorway conversations”, i.e. the conversations that you would otherwise have on the way or just before the meeting in the hallway or doorway. At a face-to-face meeting you would be there a little earlier to prepare everything. Help your team prepare by sending out the agenda and any documents well in advance. You can start discussions and polls in advance using tools such as Padlet. This keeps them from taking up too much space in the meeting itself, which could eventually cause your volunteers to drop out. Have something to look at too. This can either be a small presentation, documents that you share on your screen or simply your camera. In any case, you should offer your team visual support.

And don’t forget to think about yourself and your own routines. Try to be fit, prepare for the meeting, maybe make yourself a coffee. Set aside some time to prepare for the meeting and give yourself a “mental transition period.” In a face-to-face meeting, you would probably do this on the way to your meeting.

During the meeting

You can also use routines sensibly during your meetings. A routine is particularly good for getting started. This helps everyone arrive at the meeting and gives you a first impression of everyone. For example, you can do an introductory round in which each person can briefly say how they are doing. Icebreaker questions are also good for this. Almost everyone can answer questions like “What was the last thing you ate?” or “What do you see when you look out the window?” without having to get too personal. On you will find a lot of such icebreaker questions. However, it is important that everyone can have their say. If the group gets too big, it is worth making smaller groups.

Also, keep your cameras on throughout the meeting if possible. Faces help your team express and perceive feelings. You can also see who is paying attention. Many have quite a poker face in online meetings. But if you consciously show your emotions on their face, you can certainly encourage them to do the same. Also, allow enough time at the end of the meeting as a buffer for unforeseen things that might take longer.

You should also plan enough breaks. Otherwise, meetings that last longer than 60 minutes become too exhausting. You can also create these breaks together, for example with energizers. You can find more information about this in this article. Another tool that you can use at any time is the chat. However, you should determine how this is to be used. For example, you could agree to ask questions or write comments here. So the “ask the neighbor” can be replaced. If the chat is too active, it can become too tiring to follow both discussions. So make it clear how to use it.

After the meeting

After the meeting, you should also plan a few minutes so that you can be reached for questions and individual topics. This is low-threshold access for team members who are unsure and may need support. Also send out the minutes promptly for people who could not be there or who had technical problems. You should send the to-dos and resolutions separately by email to all members, this is valuable, time-saving information for everyone. As a team leader, you should keep the to-dos on screen and proactively ask and offer support. This is helpful for team members who may not dare to ask for help or can simply serve as a motivation and reminder.

Hand signals as a routine

One method you can make your own routine for digital teams is individual hand signals. You can use them to express approval and disapproval, there are even entire systems for that. A rather simple one is the Fist of Five, with which you can show your agreement or disagreement in gradations. If you show five fingers, you are in favor and fully involved. With four fingers it’s okay but only with restrictions. Three fingers show mixed feelings and with two fingers you don’t agree but don’t want to block the decision. If you just point a finger, you veto it.

Of course, there are also more complex systems and lots of other characters. Raising a hand is a classic way to indicate that you want to say something. Two hands mean approval. Pointing a finger in a direction can indicate a reaction. Anyone who forms a C with their fingers wants clarification. A triangle can be used to raise a point of order. Anyone who shows the backs of their hands does not agree. Anyone who shows a fist raises an objection. Crossed hands blocking a proposal, etc. As you can see, the signs are endless and you can also come up with new ones together. The only important thing is that everyone knows the meanings and can look them up if in doubt. Then these hand signals will help you enormously to keep discussions shorter and to design your very own routine.

Even more routines for digital teams

Of course, there are many other routines for digital teams that you can easily implement. For example, get in the habit of addressing people by their name and consciously calling them out when they aren’t participating in the discussion. Or create regular informal meetings where team members can get to know each other, exchange ideas and just chat. After all, commitment in the digital field should not only consist of work, but also be fun. You should create extra rooms for this, because in the digital world they don’t happen as casually as you know from face-to-face work.

With all the fun, you have to work efficiently in the right places, i.e. when it is important and must be kept short. Otherwise, long, inefficient processes cause frustration and can spoil the fun of volunteering. Whenever possible, have face-to-face conversations in person or over the phone. In this way you show extra attention and thus appreciation. It is worth having your own routine for appreciating team members. For example, in the meeting, each person could thank someone whose work they have particularly appreciated since the last meeting.

routines for communication

When it comes to communication, too, routines for digital teams help enormously in reaching the right people with the right information via the right channel. To do this, you should set rules about which channel should be used for which type of information. What can happen in the chat? Where are discussions taking place? And how are decisions made? There should also be a room for private exchange, but not everyone has to take part. So you can meet different needs. You should keep in mind that there are different types of communication. People tend to talk, others tend to observe, and still others prefer to read. Good communication is characterized by making offers to all types. Of course, this is very time-consuming and you will not be able to make an offer to everyone for every piece of information. The following applies here: The more important the information, the more channels you should use.

How can you bring routines into your digital team

First you need to find the right routine for your team. Maybe you have unconsciously developed small routines, if so you can evaluate them. Think carefully about which routines you want to do, what you want to achieve with them and how you want to implement them. The same applies to routines: Don’t do them for the sake of routines, but adapt them to the needs of the team. What routines are appealing? Which ones make the work more exciting? Ultimately, you have to experiment and see what works well for your team. If you are dissatisfied with a routine in this trial and error process, be sure to replace or end it in a timely manner. Because it gets harder and harder to let go of a routine the longer you’ve been doing it. For each routine, it then needs a routine promoter to really enforce it and ensure that it is actually carried out.

Our conclusion

Routines can really enrich and improve your teamwork. Not only do they contribute to efficiency, the effect on teamwork and fun is really enormous. It takes time and work for the routines in the team to work really well, to be accepted and established. But it’s really worth it! You can recognize good routines by the fact that after a while you no longer notice them because they have been internalized. They are particularly useful for meetings. They ensure structure and ultimately goal-oriented work, and that’s what we all want after all.

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