These questions and guidelines will help you surface the right values for your team. Team values don’t need to be exactly the same as your company values, as long as they are aligned and don’t conflict.

What values are needed to fulfill your team’s purpose?

Values drive purpose. First identify your team’s purpose. Ask, why does your team exist? What is the real service you provide to the company? What business are you really in?

Once you are clear about your team’s purpose, then identify the values needed to fulfill its purpose. Purpose answers why. Values answer how. They provide guidelines for decisions and daily behavior that will help fulfill your purpose.

Your values depend on how you see the purpose of your team. If the accounting department believes their purpose is “to collect and organize financial information,” they probably won’t see partnering or collaborating as a core value. On the other hand, if they believe their purpose is “to provide accurate, timely information and advice to guide leaders in wise financial decision making,” then partnering and collaborating will be essential for their success.

Are your team values aligned with the company values?

Do your team values support the purpose or mission of your company? If your company operates a cruise line, safety and entertainment are likely to be core values. The accounting department will need to consider how these values translate to their own department. Safety might translate to fiscal responsibility. Some values like entertainment might not translate to a core team value, which is fine. However, even if it is not a driving value for your team, it must still be respected or conflict will arise.

If your company hasn’t articulated values, don’t wait.

Change does not have to begin at the top of an organization. Consider your own sphere of influence, and within that sphere, work with your team to identify your team’s values. As your team consistently lives its values, those who are impacted will notice, and interest and energy will spread. At the very least, you will have strengthened your own team.

7 Guidelines for Identifying Team Values

  1. Don’t assume that any values are simply “understood.” What you believe is “understood” is actually a core value. No matter what your team’s purpose is, if some form of integrity or ethical behavior is not identified as a core value, you will eventually find yourself in a downward spiral.
  2. The meaning of the words is more important than the words themselves. Ensure their meaning is clearly defined and understood. Think in terms of “values clusters,” groups of words that describe a way of being. You can choose the specific name for the value later, after the meaning is understood.
  3. Don’t make a laundry list. You don’t need to include each person’s personal values. As long as there are no values conflicts, people can still act on their personal values. Focus on the values that are the key drivers to fulfill your team’s purpose. There are usually only three to five core values.
  4. Translate the values into observable behaviors. Providing behavioral examples helps people understand what the values look like when they are lived.
  5. As a leader, model the values consistently. People watch what you do more closely than they listen to what you say.
  6. Integrate the values into your daily processes and practices. Use your values to guide decisions and how you do business. They will not be effective if they are seen as something extra or “soft.”
  7. Don’t ignore a values breach. If a core value has been violated, address it immediately. No one is exempt. Too often bad behavior of “high performers” is ignored, which in the long run undermines your entire team

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