How to Surface and Align Team Values

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

13 comments to How to Surface and Align Team Values

  • Great post Jesse. As an improvement professional, I have seen many managers who were able to build a very effective sub-culture within the team even when organization culture was not conducive. The managers were able to bind the team together with a strong purpose, kept re-iterating the values in team meetings and were genuinely interested in their growth as individuals. The results they produced were very different too.

    Thanks for sharing those useful tips!

    • Thanks for sharing your own experience and observations, Tanmay, that reinforce how it is possible to create a strong sub-culture within a larger organization. I would add that often in this situation an important role of the team’s manager is act as an advocate and to buffer the team from those “above” so they can focus on their job without getting distracted by company politics.

  • Dawood Chishti

    An amazing view point to transform fabric of an organisation into values-based business activity. It’s survival has been aligned with ecosystem – a natural phenomenon of weeding out. Its perpetual growth has been linked to proactive, role-model leadership. A wonderful approach to harness the success.

    With Respect,

    Dawood Chishti

  • Thanks Jesse, I’ve been advocating this for some time in my mid-manager leadership and collaboration training sessions. A team vision is especially important during tough times. I quoted you when I blogged on the topic!
    Thank you for articulating the need and how-to so well.

    • Such an important message. Too many people think “vision” is reserved for the top of the house. I enjoyed your post, Alan. You offer some helpful questions for team leaders to consider in crafting a vision. My piece here on values fits nicely with it. Thanks for sharing it.

  • I like the caution to guard against the laundry list Jesse. Too often we can lose out on a workable opportunity, purely because we focus on our differences rather than focus on our similarities. I guess that is where you were coming from in our conversation from one of your recent posts.

    “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.”

    • Thanks for emphasizing this point, Thabo. Often when I facilitate this process with teams, they want to include everyone’s personal values creating quite a long list. Sometimes they list things they wish they had more of (like “having fun”) and don’t list what’s already in place (like “integrity”). It’s important to identify the key values because these are the ones that need to be integrated throughout the processes, policies and informal practices. Sorting this through takes time and thought. Some teams are fun-loving because it’s essential to their purpose (e.g. it made sense for the creative team of writers, Rob, Sally, and Buddy, on The Dick Van Dyke Show). But even if it is not a core team value, I do point out they are still allowed to have fun. And if they are under a lot of stress, there may be some issues that need to be surfaced and addressed.

  • If we take ‘team’ at the level of basic bulding block, a group of persons who share similar activities for a common, not necessarily consciously shared, purpose(s), then those activities or, sometimes the purpose(s), normally provide the material for bonding the team.
    In my view and expereinces, the team, at that level, generally, does not think in terms of team’s own values, it is either the values of the (de facto or de jure) leader of the team or the values of the organization.
    A closer reading of the paragraph “What values are needed to fulfill your team’s purpose?” simply opens up the importance of values, purpose and their alignment, even at the level of of a ‘basic’ team unit.
    The guidelines, then , provide the roadmap of ‘how to’.

    • I’d say your summary is accurate. I agree that on most teams, team members are not conscious of the values. If the values are not clearly articulated, individuals are left to determine on their own what values will guide their decision making and behavior, sometimes with disastrous consequences – as I described in Lessons From the Costa Concordia. This post assumes the reader understands the importance, as I have previously made that case in several other posts. There is a bit of overlap with 5 Tips to Ensure Your Values Unify Your Team, Not Divide It, although you will see that post focuses more on the importance while this one is a “how to,” as you point out. You might be interested in Time for Spring Cleaning: Clean Up Your Values, which addresses the importance directly. Thanks for your thoughts Ashok and for providing the opportunity to say more about the importance.

      • Thanks for a very lucid response, which should a go long way in providing a fairly good insight on What, Why, How to, What If,Who, Why That issues, normally not spelt out clearly, when discussions on ‘values’ take place – whether at the workplace or at the training sessions.
        Each of the illustrative post mentioned in the reply also have tremendous add-on inputs.

  • Sal Bella

    Thanks for some great recommendations! I was wondering if you had any particular exercises to surface shared values. I have several on surfacing personal values but looking for some directly related to surfacing as you suggest “Focus on the values that are the key drivers to fulfill your team’s purpose. There are usually only three to five core values”. Let me know and thanks again for some great advice!

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