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Are you struggling to get your team to change its behavior? You may have a "know-do" problem in your team.

Where does the "Know-Do" Gap come from?


The idea of the "know-do gap" comes from research into public health, where there has been a growing recognition that there is a persistent gap between what we know about treating patients and the treatment patients receive. In other words, there is a gap between what we know works (and should do) and what we do. 


Teams also face a "know-do" gap, which shows up most clearly in team communication and collaboration. Everyone agrees they should share information, communicate more, and collaborate better. But, in practice, the opposite happens; collaboration doesn't happen, individuals work in silos and information isn't shared. It's a classic "know-do gap".


Applying the COM-B To Understand Change


Why does this happen in teams? And what can you do about it? It can be tempting to assume it's about individuals who don't want to behave differently. And this might be the case. However, it is only one of several possible causes. The theory on behaviour change (the COM-B model, for example) provides a helpful framework for thinking about this. 


COM-B and behaviour change models suggest that individuals and groups need three things to perform a specific behaviour. They need to be capable (have the skills and knowledge to do the task), they have to have the opportunity (supportive social content and resources), and the motivation (they want or need to carry out the behaviour). These elements are interdependent and can be used as a quick diagnostic tool when considering why a team isn't following through on what it has said it will or is committed to doing. 


Diagnosing the Change Management Challenge: Three Questions to Bridge the "Know-Do Gap"


A simple way to start to diagnose the "know-do gap" is to ask yourself three questions: 


Is/are the individual(s) capable of performing the behaviour/task? 

Do they have the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to complete the task? If the answer is no, then you have the basis for a conversation about training, coaching, potentially changing the behaviour/task, or working with them to find a more suitable role if the task can't change. 


Does the individual have the chance to perform the behaviour/task? 

It is surprising how often we make changes or ask things of teams without considering whether they have the "chance" to complete the behaviour/task. The chance is the opportunity or resources necessary to behave in a certain way or carry out the task. If you ask a team to collaborate more and make deadlines even more challenging before establishing the new behaviour, they will unlikely have the chance to make the change. If the social environment is working against collaboration - perhaps there are strong individual incentives or loyalties in an organisation, you are unlikely to be able to make a significant change. 


In these cases, you need to look at how you create the resources and opportunities for a person or team to close the "know-do gap" and behave differently. This might be about creating more space to allow people to practice a new behaviour or looking at how the incentives work to align with what you want to happen. 


Does the individual or team want to perform the behaviour/task? 

Does the individual or team see the task as a critical element of how their performance is assessed? If they don't, establishing that clarity is an essential first step. More important is understanding if the individuals want to perform the task. Do they feel it is necessary and aligned with their values and beliefs? Does performing the task improve how they see themselves or undermine their self-perception (for example, does a change to improve efficiency remove someone from a role where they felt important and necessary to the team)? 


If so, you likely have a motivation challenge. You can always start to address a motivation challenge by building capability and creating the opportunity to perform the task. It often requires more time to identify and connect with personal motivations and goals. Finding ways to align work behaviours/tasks with personal objectives can be beneficial, leading to motivation. 

"Know-do gaps" are problems for lots of teams. 

You might run into them a bit more often if you are new to a leadership role. This happens when you are new to leadership or in a new leadership role because you usually have many ideas combined with a slightly less well-formed understanding of your team. That's okay. The key is to take your time to think through these questions and avoid the temptation to try and do everything at once - it will only compound the problem. 


What matters more is that you start with the most critical pain points. Less is often more, and acknowledging some of the challenges can go a long way to addressing these challenges. Focus on key changes, slow down, and you'll see the "know-do gap" closing. 

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