Values tell you what to do when you don’t know what to do.” 

Tom McCoy, former EVP at Advanced Micro Devices

To develop a high-performing team, a leader must collaboratively develop a set of shared values. Without shared values, sustained high performance is impossible.

On a high-performance team, everyone knows the shared values. Policies don’t always tell you what to do. The boss often isn’t there to help you decide. But the values guide your behavior.

For a team, shared values are their moral and operational compasses. Shared values are the core beliefs that guide the behaviors of a group. These values are not just words posted on the website; they are actively used to make decisions, especially the toughest ones where difficult tradeoffs are involved.

Sometimes the values are a few single words. We recommend no more than five or six (for memorability), with explanatory sentences for each word. Sometimes the values are brief sentences.

Case in point

In the midst of the Civil War, the Mayo family formed a new medical practice that would be guided by two values:

  • The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.  
  • No one is big enough to be independent of others.

These values (plus a few they have added since then) have guided Mayo Clinic until this day when it is an $8 billion exemplar of how health care should be practiced.

When she was president of Princeton University, Dr. Shirley Tilghman told us, “My most important job is to articulate clearly and consistently what the values of the institution are.”

John Krol, the former outside lead director at Tyco, told us, “The number one thing in the turnaround of Tyco was a culture of basic values.”

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Steps to develop shared values

To develop your team’s shared values, follow these steps:

1. Examine any explicit shared values of the organization to which your team belongs.

2. Assemble a group of ten to twelve volunteers (or your whole team if it is small enough) willing to help draft your team’s shared values.

  • Have each volunteer complete a list of their top five personal values. A free exercise for developing your personal values can be found at http://triplecrownleadership.com/resources/personalvaluesexercise.
  • Share everyone’s personal values and compare them with the organization’s values (if any).
  • Break out into two or three small sub-groups, each of which develops a draft list of shared values for the team.
  • Collaboratively synthesize the work of the sub-groups into a consolidated first draft of the team’s shared values, ensuring they are compatible with your organization’s values.
  • Request volunteers to take this first draft to other stakeholders for further input.

3. Have the volunteers share the first draft with others: team members, internal and external customers and suppliers, and other departments of the organization.

  • Hold meetings with these other stakeholder groups, repeating the steps in item 2 above to redraft the shared values for your team.
  • Synthesize their input.

4. Reconvene the original group of volunteers and redraft the shared values as appropriate, repeating these steps as often as you must until a clear consensus is emerging around your team’s shared values.

5. Make the shared values a part of the day-to-day actions of the team:

  • Publish the shared values widely.
  • Gain sincere commitment from team members to operate by them (otherwise they do not belong on the team).
  • Hold each other (and new team members) accountable for behaving according to the shared values.

This process takes time and patience, sometimes weeks, or even months. The value is as much in the dialogue—the talking and deep listening, gaining buy-in and commitment—as in the final product itself.

Practical Applications

Does your team have collaboratively developed shared values?

Have you written down and shared with your team your personal values?

Why not begin the process of developing your team’s shared values using the steps above?

If you would like some further free counsel on crafting your organization’s shared values, contact us at info@triplecrownleadership.com. We will help the first five such requests we receive.