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It was quite a blow-up. Laura and Will each accused the other of violating one of the team’s core values – integrity. They each felt they had honored the value and the other person had disregarded it.  People sure get mad when they feel someone has trampled on their values!

Will had promised the client he would send the proposal by the end of the day.  It was 4:45 pm and he was waiting for Laura to finish the final edits on the graphics. Laura was conscientiously checking every detail for accuracy making sure that each segment of the pie chart was the exact same size.

At 4:55 pm, Will walked over to Laura’s desk and asked her when she’d be ready. She said she needed 15 more minutes.  Will told her to forget it – that he was going to use the earlier version. He walked back to his desk and sent the proposal at 5:00 pm sharp.

And that’s when the blow-up occurred.

Laura’s view:  Our team values integrity. When I do a job, I do it right. You can count on me to make sure that whatever goes to the client looks professional and is accurate.  I’m embarrassed and angry that Will violated our value of integrity by sending the proposal with inaccuracies.

Will’s view:  Our team values integrity. When I make a promise, I keep it.  I promised the client I would send that proposal by the end of the day. The graphic was not the highest quality, but all the information was accurate and we demonstrated to our client that they can count on us to follow through. Laura’s expectation that I wait for her was out of line because it violated our team’s value of integrity.

Who was right?

They both were.

What was the problem?

A personality conflict?  That’s the simple explanation. But it’s the wrong explanation.

The problem was the team had not defined their values clearly. Therefore, each team member was sincerely acting on their own personal definition of the value.

The team had created a list of values they had all agreed upon (integrity, communication, relationships, teamwork and fiscal responsibility).  It was a good list, but it was only a list of words – no definitions.  This is a set-up to divide your team, not unify it.

5 Tips to Ensure Your Values Unify Your Team

  1. Choose values that support the purpose of your team, not just the values that appeal to individual’s personal preferences.  It’s important that team values are not in direct conflict with personal values. But the values you choose should be those that are needed to fulfill your team’s purpose and guide your journey as you create your desired future.

2. Describe your values with examples of behaviors.

For example, these are our Seapoint team’s four core values:

  • Transparency
    • Be open, honest, and forthcoming.
    • Seek and face the truth.
    • Say what you mean; mean what you say.
  • Collaboration
    • Engage through bringing our expertise and utilizing the expertise of others.
    • Seek new ideas and approaches.
    • Assume responsibility to communicate in ways that can be heard and understood.
  • Success
    • Hold the highest standards of professionalism, skills and knowledge.
    • Meet our commitments to clients and all stakeholders.
    • Learn from our successes and our mistakes.
  • Stewardship
    • Contribute to creating a healthy, sustainable world.
    • Help improve communities and the global environment.

3. The process of creating your values is as important as what the words say.

If you look at the list of our values, even with the examples, it might not be as clear to you as it is to us.  This is because we engaged in a lot of conversations about what it looks like when we are living these values. And in those conversations we tweeked the words many times to reflect the shared understanding we had arrived at.

4.  Make your values public. Our values are listed prominently on our website.

It’s true that publishing your values is useless if you’re not living them. But publishing them is an important first step – it puts them front and center. We publish them on our website because we are guided by the same values in working with clients as in working with each other.

5.  Hold yourselves and each other accountable for living your values.

As Chris Edmonds pointed out in his recent blog on values accountability, when you ignore values infractions, your entire team looses credibility and your values become meaningless.

When your values are clearly defined, accountability discussions look and feel a lot different than the exchange between Will and Laura.  It’s possible to have discussions from a position of rational respect, not angry accusations.

An Alternative Scenario

If their team had followed these tips, Will and Laura’s conversation might have gone something like this instead:

Will: It’s 4:55 pm and I’ve promised the client I’ll send the proposal by 5:00 pm. It’s important for our team to honor our value of “meeting our commitments to clients.”

Laura: I’m not done and I don’t want to send it because I’m honoring our team’s value of “highest standards of professionalism.”

Will:  Looks like we’re struggling with a values conflict.

Laura:  Then we need to determine the most important value in this particular case.

Will: The client needs the proposal by the end of today so they have time to review it before presenting it to the executive team.  As long as the data is accurate, they’ll have what they need for tonight and we can send them a cleaned up version in the morning with the final graphics.

Laura: Sounds like a plan.

When your values are clearly defined and understood, conversations on how to implement work go much smoother.

Do you assume your team’s values are understood? 

It’s best to find out, or you might be heading for a blow-up.

  • Are your team’s values displayed prominently?
  • Does everyone understand exactly what they mean?
  • Are they part of your everyday discussions?

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