Teamwork : The Ten Values of Excellent Teams

Martin Edwards is Chief Executive of Julia’s House, the Dorset Children’s Hospice in the UK.

He formerly worked in Brand Management for Procter & Gamble and is author of the ‘trusted leadership’ ethos detailed in www.trustedleader.org


Values in teams are the specific beliefs about what is right and wrong around us. Organizational and team values are about the culture we should encourage, the standards we should have, and the principles that should underpin the team’s efforts. They are the essential building blocks of teambuilding.

Over time all other things may change – an organization’s people, strategy, finances, beneficiaries – but its values should not. If these are allowed to degenerate, a team no longer has any unifying core, it will fragment, staff turnover will increase and results will plummet.

Think about how values should inform your leadership style. And hold true to them: values are the things upon which you should never compromise.

Excellent teams have ten core team values:

1. Listening to each other with an open mind without interruption
2. Sharing knowledge, information and experience with those who can benefit
3. Taking key decisions based on reasoning not rank

4. Expressing concerns only to those responsible for dealing with them
5. A responsibility culture not a blame culture
6. Basing our work on the ‘customer’
7. Striving for continuous improvement
8. Behaving with integrity
9. Positively challenging dishonesty or destructive behaviour
10. No ego

The Green values are about involving people, and ensuring decisions have a broader base of expertise

The Red values are ‘results’ values

The Blue values are about ethical and cohesive behaviour

Values 1, 2 and 3 are about involving others for the greater good and increasing the expertise behind decisions.

Listening to each other with an open mind without interruption

Every different point of view could be an opportunity to learn something. Listening shows that you value the other person and that you are open to the possibility of change. Interrupting shows that you think you or your opinions are more important (unless the other person is really rambling or repetitive). Are you a good listener or a bad listener? When you listen, are you open to what the person is saying? Or do you just wait for them to finish before saying what you were going to say anyway?

Sharing knowledge and experience with those who can benefit

The ‘information is power’ culture breeds ignorance, mistakes and defensive behaviour. But it’s refreshing when someone offers their information or expertise in a helpful way without expecting anything in return. Proactive people do this simply because it’s the right thing to do. When was the last time you shared a good idea or useful information, or passed on your experience sensitively?

Taking key decisions based on reasoning not rank

When people know that their ideas will be debated and considered properly, they will be more encouraged to come forward with them.

It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. Democracies mean that regardless of whose reasoning is most sound, the majority view always wins and the minority loses. This ‘win-lose’ culture can demotivate and disenfranchise people.

In the workplace, the task of the leader is to establish the right culture and choose directions, having gathered expert input and thoroughly worked through all the options. ‘Win-win’ cultures ensure that every view is heard and debated. A meritocracy means more than ability being a passport to higher rank; it means that any reasoned contribution is welcome and can affect the team’s direction or methods.

Values 4 and 5 are about how we should curtail problems and move forward proactively.

Expressing concerns only to those responsible for dealing with them

A fundamental characteristic of highly effective teams. Don’t exacerbate situations by telling lots of people how bad things are when those people are not responsible for sorting them out. This is called validating – seeking solace in someone reflecting your opinion without seeking a solution. Instead, tell the person or people responsible for sorting it out, and only them. This requires tremendous self-discipline: it can be comforting in the short term to seek solace in complaining to anyone who will listen – but isn’t it better to seek positive change?

A responsibility culture not a blame culture

There are few things more demoralizing than a blame culture. It forces people to protect themselves by unnecessary paperwork, currying favour, or shifting blame – taking attention away from the ‘customer’ and hindering continuous improvement.

It is often said of politicians that their desire for power makes them by definition unsuitable for office. This is because the stereotypical keys to promotion in politics – spinning situations to personal advantage, shifting blame, taking credit, and moving up at the expense of others - create distrust and poor teamwork: they live in a blame culture.

Similarly, people who are good at ‘office politics’ thrive in a blame culture. They may be successful in their personal ambitions, but no-one really wants to work with or for them, so their ability to get the best out of people around them is limited. Teams therefore fragment, staff turnover increases and the organisation fails to reach its maximum potential.

In a responsibility culture, the manager should take responsibility for a team’s failings or mistakes in all instances except dishonesty or unethical behaviour. People feel trusted in this culture and commit themselves more to it.

Values 6 and 7 are about focusing on results.

Basing our work on the ‘customer’

Many teams behave as if fixated on each other’s faults or failures, or are hampered by needless bureaucracy. But we should not be each other’s obstacle or enemy. The real focus should be on the customer. Remind people who are at war with each other, or who are just on their own warpath, that this has nothing to do with the objective, which is to serve the customer.

Get into the habit of asking the customer what they like or dislike about the service. Put the needs of the customer squarely at the heart of strategy and planning.

Organise and plan the work around the people who work closest with the customer, listening to these people’s views and providing what they need to excel, so that the entire work of the organisation is a system for serving the customer’s needs and wants. If you are one of these people, tell your manager what you need in order to excel in your work.

Striving for continuous improvement

Every team and every organisation should always be on the lookout for how it can better achieve its aims. This task is never complete: it is really a continuous process, and at its best is a constant state of mind of every team member.

This means being open to ideas. Ban phrases like ‘we never used to do it that way’, ‘it never worked before’ or ‘they’ll never say yes to that’. These sayings put a stop to potential solutions or improvements in the service. Encourage questions and phrases like ‘whose expertise could help with this?’, ‘what’s the next step?’ or ‘great idea: do it!’

Values 8, 9 and 10 are about cohesive behaviour.

Behaving with integrity

An organisation’s reputation is the crux of its success. A lack of integrity in one part of the organisation can, if it becomes widely known, undermine the entire organisation. Integrity is also at the heart of treating people equally and fairly.

Positively challenging dishonesty or destructive behaviour

Honesty, ethical behaviour and effort are essential to a team that pulls together. It must be up to the manager to enforce these standards, having first given a fair hearing to the person or people concerned. This should be done calmly but assertively, taking time to explain exactly what is the desired standard of behaviour, and explaining the consequences of further breaches of the team’s standards.

Challenging undermining behaviour is actually part of the process of helping everybody on the team, and should be seen as a positive step. And of course the same standards must be applied across the whole team.

No ego

Displays of ego risk undermining anything you achieve by following the other team values.‘No ego’ behaviour is about the importance of just getting on with the job. Sounds easy … but there are subtle displays of ego that are easy traps to fall into. Have you ever broken any of the following rules?

  • Force yourself not to act to impress but to act out of values
  • Never seek compliments from the team
  • Never complain about your lot to the team
  • Praise people as much in their absence as in their presence
  • No matter how hard you work, don't seek or reward a macho hours culture
  • Acknowledge and learn from failure

Acknowledging failure is a sign of honesty, openness and a commitment to learning. The task of the manager is to explain to people that if they make a mistake, the best thing they can possibly do is to come forward openly, and that the focus will be on helping to put things right. The opposite of this is a blame culture where nobody comes forward, hiding mistakes until they become crises.

If you demonstrate and stand up for these ten values you will be building teams that work together for the greater good of the organisation, and that perform to their optimum potential. 
 


Ó Copyright Martin Edwards, 2005

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