Rethink Routine

Adobe For All In Action.

Rethink Routine

Adobe For All In Action is a set of concrete behaviors to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace. It includes five elements:

  1. Appreciate the Unique: Value the differences in others’ stories and ideas.
  2. Amplify Others: Help everyone’s voice be heard.
  3. Enhance the Team: Consider what a new addition will bring that’s different.
  4. Rethink Routine: Look to equalize meetings, assignments, social events.
  5. Open Up: Speak up for what you need and encourage feedback.

In this fourth installment of our series, we’re tackling the daily behaviors that keep us from making progress: Rethink Routine.

We love routines because they make life easier, with less tax on our overloaded brains.  Whether it’s making coffee, brushing our teeth, feeding the dog, or falling asleep for the night, we likely do it in the exact same way each time. In fact, we may not even remember exactly how we did it because we no longer give it any thought.

Many of us fall into routines at work too. And unfortunately, when it comes to creating a more inclusive environment for the team, that lack of conscious thought can be harmful.

Here are a few areas where routines are most likely to create an unlevel playing field:

Meeting roles and team assignments

Every team dynamic comes with so-called “housekeeping” duties — note-taking in the meeting, capturing photos of the whiteboard, arranging for the meeting room, etc. These things may clearly fall into a specific team member’s job description, in which case there are no issues. But often they don’t clearly belong to one person, so they fall to either a volunteer or the manager’s selection.

Unfortunately, research shows that meeting “housekeeping” most often falls to women.  In my Amplify Others post, I mentioned this funny video spoof about conference calls. The video “meeting” only includes one woman — and yes, in the scene she has the duty to distribute notes for the meetings (see time stamp 3:08). I’m sure the video creators didn’t intend that small aspect of the script to be a commentary on gender dynamics — but they did hit on an uncanny and very common reality!

The tendency of women, and likely other underrepresented groups as well, to be handed the “housekeeping” is not motivated by anyone consciously valuing them less. In fact, these employees often become invaluable, and they may be willingly volunteering to help. But the more an employee takes on these types of low-reward duties, the less time they have for other creative or challenging work. Other team members can take on these duties too, and if someone doesn’t do a great job the first time, give feedback on how to do it better rather than going back to the “reliable” choice (saying, “Bob did a bad job with the note-taking so we won’t ask him again” may be exactly the outcome Bob is looking for!).

On the flip side of the meeting “housekeeping” are those plum stretch assignments that give employees a chance to be visible and grow their skills. Often these opportunities go to the manager’s star employee, and that is understandable — you know they will do a great job.  But unfortunately, these decisions can create a self-fulfilling prophecy as the star continues to be challenged and gain the limelight, while other employees fall to the rear.

Rotating stretch opportunities gives all employees a chance to learn and demonstrate what they can do. That’s not only rewarding for them, but also for managers who are cultivating a broad set of motivated, visible team members.

If you’re a manager, when it comes to meetings and project assignments:

  • Rotate the “housekeeping” responsibilities so all team members share them equally over time.
  • Offer stretch assignments to a variety of employees to help them grow and develop.
  • Avoid relying on one team member’s strengths for something that should be expected from everyone.

For your own career, speak up if you find yourself consistently being given the “housekeeping” or being passed over for the challenging assignments. Chances are that your manager isn’t aware of the dynamic, and it’s important to advocate for yourself. It will likely help others on your team too.

Team outings

Social time as a team can be really valuable, whether it’s an official team off-site gathering or a casual lunch out. But they can be full of pitfalls relative to making everyone feel equally comfortable.

I know of a team that was led by a very athletic, outdoorsy manager. Every offsite had an athletic component: cycling, bowling, archery, and a climbing-ropes course to name a few.  Some participants enjoyed it, but some didn’t. They didn’t feel that they could say anything, because it was what the manager wanted to do. It would have been even worse if one of them had suffered from a medical issue or disability that they preferred to keep private — how would they have explained not being able to cycle or climb?

These dynamics aren’t limited to the athletic and outdoorsy. There are wine tastings with nondrinkers, cooking lessons with food allergy sufferers, and ziplining sessions with people who are afraid of heights. These team members are then faced with a tough choice: do they attend but sit out on the “fun,” or come up with a sudden conflict and bow out altogether? If you’re responsible for planning a team outing:

  • Try soliciting open suggestions from the team rather than deciding the plan based on what you personally enjoy.
  • Encourage feedback on a few curated options, letting everyone know you’ll make the final decision after people have a chance to privately weigh in.
  • Consider even one strong objection as a “veto” rather than making the process democratic.

These seemingly small steps can ensure that every attendee feels comfortable and can have fun, which is the whole idea!

Social interactions and manager access

As the pace of work continues to get faster, many of us spend more time with coworkers than with our own family. It’s natural to form friendships. But just like we were sad not being invited to a birthday party as a child, most adults still want to be invited into the group.  Being left out doesn’t feel good.

Think about your interactions with peers: Do you always have lunch with some, but not others?  Do you spend time with coworkers outside work, then discuss those adventures in the office? Do you converse more often with team members who share your personal interests? If your answer is yes, look around you. There may be someone who wishes they could join in, even if it’s just the occasional conversation or lunch invitation.

If you’re a manager, this takes on much greater importance: team members can benefit (or at least appear to benefit) from their close relationship with you. Whether it’s grabbing lunch or outings on the weekends, if it is confined to only certain individuals, you may build the perception of playing favorites. Try to provide as equal time and access to you as possible — whether it’s 1:1 or group activities. And be aware of how an “open invitation” could still leave someone out. For example, saying, “Who wants to golf on Saturday?” can feel inclusive, but for team members with caregiving responsibilities or a serious lack of golf skills, the effect is just the opposite.

This becomes more difficult when you have team members who work in another office location, so perfect equality is not always possible. One of my direct reports is based in India, so I can’t invite him to lunch, but I do try to invest extra energy into our in-person visits several times a year and weekly phone calls, and I minimize team discussion of outings that he is not able to join.

Changing routines can be hard, but it can be energizing and a great way to drive more inclusive new habits. As you think about the changes you want to make in 2019, include these in the mix:

  • Examine team meeting dynamics and responsibilities to ensure a balanced load of “housekeeping.”
  • Distribute stretch project assignments across team members to challenge everyone.
  • Invest extra time in planning team outings to ensure everyone’s needs are considered.
  • Be sensitive as to how social relationships may make others feel left out.

The fantastic thing about Rethinking Routine is that we have a fresh opportunity to do it every day. What change will you try?

Stay tuned for future segments in our Adobe For All In Action series. To download a printable PDF of Adobe For All In Action, click here.

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