Are the actions your team members take aligned with team values?

If not, team members may feel conflicted. Values are important to teams but don’t always get articulated.

Here red10 ‘s Sarah Barber describes an approach to articulating values based on the team story.

Telling the team story

In his book Belonging, Owen Eastwood describes his work with elite sporting teams, helping them to tell their team stories and agree values which become a “shorthand” for their story.

He tells the story of the ancient Polynesian navigators seeking out new lands for their people. They took stones on their double-hulled canoes to represent tribal values. A black and jagged volcanic stone for resilience; a green flintstone that could be fashioned into a weapon or a fishhook for adaptability and a stone from the floor of the communal meeting house for selfless

Helping a team to tell their story

Today’s business teams may not have navigated across oceans, but they will have shared important experiences, navigated obstacles and achieved important milestones.

As pre-work, we ask team members who were involved at critical stages in the journey to prepare to tell the story of that stage. At the meeting, everyone hears the story before we split into breakout groups.

What values did we have in place that enabled our success?

In breakout groups, we ask people to identify the shared values that enabled the team to be successful – and to choose their top three to share back in plenary.

When we come back together, each group shares the values they have identified as most important and we record these on a flipchart or a shared whiteboard (if virtual). Having heard from everyone and grouped as appropriate, we use dot voting to allow everyone to pick their top two or three values. Those with the most votes become team values.

We suggest no more than a handful are selected – otherwise people will not remember them. Three is probably optimal.  Here are some examples – taken from different teams:

Urgency: We share a sense of urgency to make good decisions fast

Warmth: We show warmth in our interactions with each other and our customers

Accountability: We deliver on our actions and commitments (or re-contract)

Might we need additional values going forward?

The team may be happy that the values identified are sufficient – or they may feel the team is not quite where it needs to be. When this is the case, an additional exercise might be helpful.

We ask team members to share metaphors for how the team is working together now, and how they would like it to be working together in future. One example I have heard is that we are all cycling hard now but it should be more like a peloton, switching around who is in the lead depending on circumstance.

The use of metaphors helps to make this conversation “low risk”. It is easier to share a metaphor than to give constructive feedback to your whole team!  Often people are struck by the similarities in their metaphors and may be able to identify an additional value that will help people move towards the desired future state.

Finally – living the values through behaviours

Once values are in place, it is important that behaviours are aligned with values.

The best way to embed these behaviours is to give and receive feedback.  Spot your fellow team members showing behaviour that aligns with values and give them positive feedback. Similarly, if you see behaviour not aligned with values, state simply what you have observed (facts) and ask your fellow team member why they did/said that.

Be curious, not judgemental and you should be able to have a good, constructive conversation about the non-alignment. The rule of thumb is that people need at least five positive comments to every one constructive comment – otherwise that constructive conversation probably won’t land.