Having a clearly defined set of values that everybody supports and adheres to as a guide for decision making and the actions of a group can be a great way to increase the ability of the group to THRIVE.  The power of values to align and support effective team work has been written about and promoted by many in the business world.  And when done properly, defining your team/department/organization values can be very beneficial.  For any team/department/organization to THRIVE it must have cohesion among its members.  Unfortunately too often the exercise doesn’t produce the intended results.

I experienced this firsthand when I was still working in the government.  Someone decided our office would function more effectively if we had a list of values to guide us.  Unfortunately we were not given the opportunity to develop these values – they were delivered to us from on high (and quite possibly written up by an outside consultant brought in to make sure we became a values driven organization).   The outcome was basically a disaster – we never really felt like we ‘owned’ the values and after the first little while nobody gave them a second thought.  At the time I felt it had been a mistake to not have involved those of us in the office who would be using the values to guide our actions and over the intervening years I have only grown more certain of the necessity to include the people who are to apply the values.

However while leading a group of senior managers through a ‘values’ exercise I discovered an even stronger reason to involve everybody – and to take it beyond simply coming up with a series of value words.  Given the diversity in to-day’s workforce people bring a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds to the table and the cultural  differences between team members can be quite significant.  Because of this diversity how people define a word and think it should be applied in a variety of contexts can vary greatly.  As each member of the leadership team gave their definition for a value we discovered some significant differences – in fact it explained some of the friction that existed between the various department and why breaking down the ‘silos’ that separated people had proven so contentious.

Because of the broad diversity among staff in organizations now it is important for each team member to not only agree on the value itself, but on the definition the group will assign to it and how it will apply in the workplace.

To make sure that your “values” exercise produces team alignment and improved productivity follow these xx steps:

1.  Solicit input from everybody involved right from the beginning of the exercise, don’t rely on outside consultants to put forward a list of values.  A facilitator can help, but the values must originate with the people who will be living them in the workplace.

2.  Use a technique such as ‘brainstorming’ to create a list of values, accepting all suggestions at the start without judgement.  To ensure input from your ‘introverted’ team members you can send out a memo in advance and even invite written submissions before the first meeting.

3.  Once your group runs out of steam go over the values you’ve collected and narrow the list down to 4-6 value words.  A “final four” process is a useful technique for reducing the number and retaining the ones which are considered to have the highest priority.    As part of this process have each person provide their definition for the value which they wish to keep.  For a value to stay on the list everybody must agree on the value, the definition and what it means within the context of the workplace.  Clarifying the meaning of the values the team will use is absolutely necessary to eliminate potential conflicts and conflicting messages that arise when people have different ideas of what a value means when expressed in the workplace.  Without this step what should unite a team could end up tearing it apart.

4.  Once the group has finished clarifying the ‘values’ definitions and everybody agrees with the definition and how it would apply in the workplace do one final check-in with everybody to make sure all agree on the final 4-6 values that will be used to guide their workplace decision making and subsequent actions.

While this process may take a little longer than simply hiring a consultant to provide you with a list of values that they think will create a high performance team/organization, the end result will be much more likely to move your group from merely surviving to THRIVING, which also results in a THRIVING bottom line.

If you’ve ever seen a situation where having values identified hasn’t helped a team or an organization improve its’ performance, please comment below and share your experience.  Shared knowledge helps others move from merely surviving to THRIVING.

Until next time – THRIVE on! 🙂





Karen Switzer-Howse

Canada’s Premier Thrive Synergy Strategist