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
- 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:
- Be open, honest, and forthcoming.
- Seek and face the truth.
- Say what you mean; mean what you say.
- 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.
- Hold the highest standards of professionalism, skills and knowledge.
- Meet our commitments to clients and all stakeholders.
- Learn from our successes and our mistakes.
- 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?
Giving meaning to the values is a non stop living experience. Bringing them up in everyday discussions is the way forward, I agree. Our company, Find Inspired Talent, we look at our behaviour and performance always referring back to our values which are:
Integrity. We are consistent in what we say relative to what we do
Humility. We value all people for their qualities and listen
Confidence. We learn from the results of the actions we take
Flamboyance. Our colourful personalities will bring energy and fun to our professional engagement with the people we connect with.
They don’t just sit on our website, they are a way of centering yourself if you want to make a decision or take action (particularly when you feel a conflict that makes it difficult to choose). I don’t think your story is exaggerated as I have seen it happen. There is nothing wrong with changing your agreements, and in the above story both Will and Laura got stuck on being right, rather than looking to win.
Hi Thabo, Thank you for sharing your own values and how you use them on a daily basis. I especially appreciate your value of “flamboyance” and how you define it. Finding the values that are unique to your team has the added effect of helping to differentiate your business model.
Thanks also for adding your own observations of the conflicts that arise when values are not clearly defined. Laura and Will are real people and their conflict really did happen. If they had clearly defined their values, could the alternate conversation have happened? Absolutely! It’s a missed opportunity when we approach resolution from the viewpoint of resolving interpersonal conflict when the bigger issue of team values is unresolved, because these kinds of conflicts will keep emerging as team morale continues to diminish.
Much appreciation for adding to the conversation. Hope you’re having a fun and energizing day!
I am astonished in reading your blog about how all the schools I have worked in and for have not even touched upon the process of defining their values. Yes, there are many stakeholders : teachers, administrators, assistants, custodians, students…. one school I am in now has a list of core values, but I am not aware of any conversations about them nor do I know if they are also expected of the adults in the building.
I am thinking about the team I work with and what building our values would look like. This might be a way around the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) – DIR/Floortime contradiction (reinforcement theory vs. relationship based practices)….but I am not in a position to start this conversation.
Hi Susan, It’s always astonishing to me how many organizations, especially values-based organizations like schools and non-profits, don’t take the time to define their values because they assume they are already understood. I have worked with many school systems who have gone through the process of defining their purpose, picture of the future and values, and the rewards have always been great for all involved.
Are you really not in a position to start any conversations? The easiest place to start is with your own team. And if you can’t have a team discussion, could you start by having conversations with individual colleagues? – about what your own values are and how your act on them in your work and ask them what theirs are…. one conversation at a time. Identify your own sphere of influence and start there. Here’s a link to an earlier post I wrote on what you can do when the senior leaders don’t support this work. When Leaders Don’t Lead
I’m so glad you’re continuing to read my blog and are finding it thought-provoking. I have a lot of confidence in your resourcefulness and ability to find creative ways to make things work once you have embraced a concept. Am remembering when we worked together… oh so many years ago!
EXCELLENT post! And very much aligned with what Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner say in The Leadership Challenge, for which I’m a certified master facilitator candidate. The first of their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership is Model the Way, which means finding your voice by knowing your personal values then aligning your actions accordingly.
For me, creating values for my new company, Angie Chaplin Leadership Partners LLC, was the very first step. And the values are the same for me personally and professionally: Family, Service, Communication, Growth and Love / Affection.
The Leadership Challenge offers Values Cards, a deck of cards with one value word on each card. You go through the deck and prioritize from Very Important, Somewhat Important, to Not Important. The outcome is to narrow the Very Importants down to a top five — if everything’s important, then nothing’s important. These Values Cards are available for purchase, if anyone wants to contact me – email@example.com.
The cards are what I’ve used several times over the past couple of years to re-examine my values, and again when I ultimately determine my personal and the company’s values.
Thanks for posting a topic about which I’m very passionate!
Hi Angie, That’s great that you have connected with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. They are pioneers in the field of visionary leadership. And thanks for sharing the values of your new company. I would like to encourage you to continue refining them in the format I suggested in my post – give at least 3 examples of what they look like or write a sentence that illuminates them. The cards are a great starting place. Ultimately the real value is the dialogue they engender and the personal meaning that arises as a result. Wishing you the best with your new business. I’d like to support you, please let me know if there’s anything I can do.
Thanks for sharing your insights. You’ve given us enough material to keep most organizations busy for weeks!
Like so many others it took me years to figure out that clear values are central and essential to every facet of organizational life. Right now we’re working to distill our values down so that we truly have “core” values that everyone remembers. Can you suggest a process for this activity?
Hi Dan, Honored to have you stop by and share your insights, which are always helpful. One of your gifts is asking provocative questions that take people to a new level. Your question asking if I can suggest a process for this activity challenges me. In trying to keep my blog short and still provide meaty content, I try to zero in on specific topics. I could suggest some specific activities like the one Angie Chaplin describes in her comment, but I am challenged to concisely describe the process that will ensure the activities will lead to a) the right values b) clearly defined and understood values c) values everyone is committed to and d) agreements on how you will support each other in living the values. I could refer you to my book Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision which describes the process and to The Full Steam Ahead Field Guide which outlines the process step-by-step. I don’t like to promote my own materials in my blog, but I don’t know a better way to answer your question concisely. I need to think about it a bit more.
However, your question provides a wonderful opportunity. I would be delighted if my blog could become a place where readers could be resources for each other. So here’s an invitation to all readers: Would you offer your ideas and suggestions for a process to distill core values that everyone remembers?
Thanks for getting back to me… I LOVE your book “Full Steam Ahead” It has helped me become unsatisfied with my current values statements.
All of your response to me is helpful. I’m taking, “How will we support each other in living the values?” as my leadership mantra as we work to simplify, clarify, and express our core values.
Thank you for your helpful response.
PS…when a book is really good you do us a favor when you let us know about it, even if its yours. 🙂
Great tips Jesse Lyn. I especially like the idea of using values to create a culture that includes everyone. It’s very helpful for everyone to be on the same page working together to unify the team instead of everyone having a different perception or goal. You also made me think about how successful usually have mastered the art of talking with each other like adults.
Hi Guy, Great point that values define the culture – because when everyone really understand and embraces the values, the culture can be supportive rather than blaming. Thanks so much for sharing your thought!