Establishing Team Values at Work

One of the central benefits of values statements is they provide a basis for discussion when people aren’t living up to them.

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Michael Wade
One of the most important things that any team can have is a clear set of values that all of the team members follow. In an increasingly diverse workplace beset by rapid change and shifting responsibilities, a values statement can serve as a constant guide of how matters should be handled.

Now before anyone shouts out the obvious--that some of the worst organizations have had impressive values statements and that the true weasels of the world won’t feel bound by any do-gooder pronouncements --let’s acknowledge that is true. The fact that there are places where values statements don’t work does not mean that value statements never work and that they are not worth the effort.

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

One of the central benefits of values statements is they provide a basis for discussion when people--and this includes upper management--aren’t living up to them. Years ago, the Phoenix Fire Department developed what it calls The Phoenix Fire Department Way, a booklet describing how members of the department should treat one another. In the wake of its roll-out, I asked one of the assistant chiefs how “The Way” was working. He replied, “The firefighters joke and tease us about it, but they’re talking about it. More importantly, they are catching us when we’re not following it.”

It is dangerous for us to assume that all of our associates are on the same wavelength when it comes to dealing with conflict, supporting one another, and surfacing ideas and questions. We need to reinforce the basics, but before doing so it can help to identify just what the basics are.

[See 7 Toxic Attitudes That Can Harm Your Career.]

The development of the values statement should not be some edict from on high. The values should be drafted, discussed, and debated by a healthy cross-section of the organization. Mavericks as well as conformists should have their say. The sometimes lively process of drafting the values can be as valuable as the ultimate document itself and, lest we believe that the ground rules are carved in marble, the statement should be periodically revisited to see if any changes are appropriate.

Two keys to the success of the values statement are a clear provision addressing how people can raise violations and a sincere and continuing effort by management and peers to respond in a constructive fashion. If the last part is missing, the entire project will have been worthless but for one sad thing: It will have revealed that the values are not taken seriously.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.