Your team’s ability to work together effectively hinges on trust. And when values are violated, trust disintegrates.
Values are our deeply held beliefs about what is right, and we all have values that guide our choices and actions. either consciously or unconsciously.
We care passionately about our values, and the most contentious misunderstandings occur when we believe our values have been violated.
When team values are not clear, we depend on our personal values to interpret each other’s actions and intent.
A List of Values Might Divide Your Team
Identifying a list of team values is not enough. Sometimes team values unite teams, but they can also divide a team.
Take the story of Latisha and William for example.
It was quite a blow-up. Latisha and William 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!
William 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 Latisha to finish the final edits on the graphics. Latisha 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, William walked over to Latisha’s desk and asked her when she’d be ready. She said she needed 15 more minutes. William 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.
Why did this happen? You might assume it was a personality conflict. That’s a typical conclusion… but it’s the wrong one. People with different personalities can work together quite effectively when they trust they share the same values.
The problem was the team had identified four values, but it was only a list of words – with no definition of what each of these words meant.
Therefore, Latisha and William were forced to use their own personal definitions of what the value “integrity “means.
Latisha’s perspective: 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 William violated our value of integrity by sending the proposal with inaccuracies.
William’s perspective: 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. Latisha’s expectation that I wait for her was out of line because it violated our team’s value of integrity.
An Alternative Scenario
If the team had clearly defined each of their values, William and Latisha’s conversation might have gone like this instead:
William: 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.”
Latisha: 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.”
William: Looks like we’re struggling with a values conflict.
Latisha: Then we need to determine the most important value in this particular case.
William: 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.
Latisha: Sounds like a plan.
How to Ensure Your Team Values Unite Your Team
First, engage in a conversation that clearly defines each of your team values. Then make sure everyone can answer yes to these questions:
- Do your team values include examples of what they look like in action?
- Are they displayed prominently?
- Does everyone understand exactly what they mean? How do you know? Have you had discussions about what they look like in action?
- Are they part of your everyday conversations?
- Are your team values used to analyze your successes and mistakes?
- What happens if someone believes one of the team values has been violated? Is there a process that supports discussion and resolution?
This is a good example of how we do things in real life. The key here was in the solution. Latisha and William actually had heart level communication about how they each filtered the situation through what they thought should be done. The issues we have with values sometimes is that we don’t get to the point of translating what they mean in context. True communication is never overrated.
Agree! Once values are identified, there needs to be ongoing communication about them, and not assume that others are interpreting them the way you are. As you said, “true communication is never overrated.”
Brilliant. Brilliant Brilliant. As always- words are meaningless unless we define the observable behavior and actions that the words represent. Now more than ever, trust is a fragile commodity that can be trampled by actions that defy a stated value. For example, if I say I value diversity and make fun of people who are different, have broken trust.
Timely and important.
Once values have been clearly identified and agreed upon, there must be a process for ensuring they are lived or they are meaningless, and as you wisely point out, trust is trampled.
This is so important… It is not just naming shared values but checking that you have a shared definition that matters most. Thanks.
So important! The best way to ensure shared definition is to have a team conversation and agree on examples of what they mean. For example, if “diversity” is a value, as Eileen pointed out, then there should be bullets below that with statements of what it looks like in action. For example:
– We pledge to create a caring environment that respects diverse traditions, heritages, and experiences and is inclusive for all.
– We are committed to equitable treatment and elimination of discrimination in all its forms throughout our organization and creating a caring environment that is inclusive for all.
– We welcome diverse views and seek diverse perspectives when making strategic decisions.
I also see this as a good example of the impact from lack of communication. In the first example, it appears that William is the lead on the project, promising to send the proposal by ‘COB’. Which meant one time to him (5 p.m.) and another to Latisha. Conveying the full extent of what was needed upfront in the first example might also have given both the opportunity to talk through the problem and come to a better resolution since both were working together to achieve that goal.
Good point, Sabah. Communication is the vehicle that makes it all work. Good communication will reveal the underlying priorities or values that are driving ones actions. And identifying values without good communication is a waste of time.
Thanks for this article on values. So good. I work as a pastor of a congregation and 2 years ago I led us through a deliberate process to name and claim our values. Most congregations, across denominations, I’m thinking, do not do this and they neglect this work at their peril. There are too many assumptions about shared values. They need to be named, claimed, and then, used, regularly and deliberately, throughout the organization. We have a ways to go on that.
I also work as a leadership coach (ICF ACC) and find that I work so much on helping individuals get their work done but don’t pay enough attention to how their values are helping or hindering them accomplish what they want to accomplish. For organizations and for individuals there is this important matrix: mission, vision, beliefs, values.
Well said, Johan! I find that many religious institutions (and nonprofits) don’t bother defining their values because they assume it is already inherent. But even if your purpose is a noble one, taking the time to surface and agree on values, mission and vision creates stronger relationships and ability to make wise decisions that are supported by all.
Many thanks for these advices. Identifiying common values may help to unify team and develop strategy provided every body put the same meaning behind words. In entrepreneurship, you may find the startupfoundercanvas.com useful to address these issues 🙂
Thanks for your thoughts, Michel.