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How to model good work practices for your team

Change Makers

How to model good work practices for your team


We know the saying ‘do as I say, not as I do’, but when employees are replicating the behaviours of business leaders, it is important to understand that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Lynne Cazaly writes about how to avoid burnout by modelling good work practices for your team.

Business leaders are demonstrating the cultures and values of an organisation with everything they do, every move they make. For a team that’s following management’s lead, things could get confusing. Should we always follow the leader… or only sometimes? 

Modelling or replicating behaviour isn’t new. In training and development, there is often a ‘watch what I’m doing, do it like this’ approach. Copying and imitating behaviour is a part of learning and it is a key way a skill might be demonstrated or transferred. 

In research published in the Academy of Management titled ‘Leading by Doing’, researcher Dr Liat Eldor found there was a direct connection between leadership behaviour and the productivity and service of an organisation. In fact, a leader’s behaviour can help bring higher levels of productivity and service quality to a business, which has a significant flow on effect for the team. 

Modelling desired work practices

Learned behaviours can quickly become part of an organisation’s culture. But there could also be a darker side to behaviour modelling, when the actions of the leader are less favourable or potentially dangerous. 

When the Harvard Business Review released research data about the rise of burnout across organisations in this new COVID-19 world, they made it clear that it’s not just a case of a worker needing to be more resilient. Leaders in organisations need to do their bit to help prevent situations that can cause employee burnout.

Leaders must model desired work practices, particularly when we can be so easily guided by what we see others do. 

Gender equality advocate, actor and producer Geena Davis said: “Here’s what I always say: If they can see it, they can be it.” So put in a work context, what does the team see?

What example do we set? 

Working longer hours and weekends: Do you regularly work late or send emails over the weekend? This might be creating a culture of working longer hours or unpaid overtime just to fit in. It creates an unspoken pressure that makes employees feel like if you’re doing it, they might need to as well.

Overloaded and overwhelmed: Do you frequently experience workload overwhelm where it’s all too much? Might your team see this as the only way to respond? 

Juggling too many things:  The ineffectiveness of multitasking is well documented, yet still we do it trying to stay on top of things. How many things do you have on your to-do list or are you juggling at once? This might be communicating the message that the to-do list is never ending or will never be finished, which is a cue for burnout!

A truckload of information: Do you ever dump loads of information on the team and expect them to sort it out?  Or do you go from meeting to meeting, back-to-back all day without a break? These situations can cause cognitive overload and contribute to increased stress and burnout. 

Productive behaviours

It will help us – and the teams we work with – to model the behaviours that help us get things done, and protect wellbeing for the longer term. It’s not either/or – both are possible. Many behaviours are both productive and good for us.  

Better work practices to model for the team would be: 

  • working regular, standard and sensible hours, taking time out to rest and live a balanced life
  • being aware of the amount of work you have on and how long you estimate it will take to complete
  • focusing attention on an important project or task and completing it, and
  • clarifying your ideas and thoughts before sharing them, and presenting information in chunks. 

Organisational culture is created by the behaviours exhibited by its leaders. And it’s the unwritten and unspoken actions that often translate into the most widely adopted behaviours in an organisation. Be sure your actions match your words and that they are actions that are worth following and modelling. You never know who might be watching!


Lynne Cazaly is the author of ‘Argh! Too much information, not enough brain: A Practical Guide to Outsmarting Overwhelm’.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash.


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