ATD Blog

Developing Your Team's Shared Values

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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.”


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
  • 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 [email protected]. We will help the first five such requests we receive.


About the Author

Bob has served as CEO of New York Stock Exchange companies during his thirty-year business career. As the former CEO, Bob guided Sensormatic (a $1 billion security company) and Recognition Equipment (a $250 million high-tech company) through successful turnarounds. Bob is co-author of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill), a 2013 International Book Awards winner. Bob has served as Group Vice President and Division President of two major divisions of Pitney Bowes and Vice President, General Manager of two divisions of Avery International. Bob has led businesses and teams that have won numerous local, state, and national awards, including a state-level Malcolm Baldrige Quality Prize and the Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence (shortly after Bob left). Bob is co-author of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill), a 2012 USA Best Book Awards finalist. His writing has been featured in or reviewed by Fast Company, American Management Association, Center for Creative Leadership, Leader to Leader, Leadership Excellence, CNBC Bullish on Books, Investor’s Business Daily, and more. Bob has taught leadership at the University of Denver and Colorado Mountain College and is Chairman Emeritus of the Vail Leadership Institute. Bob has served on the boards of and consults with numerous businesses and community organizations. He is a Baker Scholar graduate of the Harvard Business School, a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, and served as an officer in the U.S. Army.

About the Author

Gregg Vanourek teaches at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship and the Royal Institute of Technology. Previously, he taught at the Euromed School of Management, University of Denver, and Colorado Mountain College. Vanourek is founder of Far Horizon, a training enterprise that connects the realms of leadership, entrepreneurship, and personal development. Before that, he co-founded New Mountain Ventures (an entrepreneurial leadership development company) and served as Senior Vice President of School Development for K12 (an online education company) during its startup years. While at K12, his team launched a number of innovative virtual schools all over the U.S., helping the company become the market leader in the space. Previously, Vanourek helped to launch and served as Vice President for Programs at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (an influential education reform foundation) and research fellow at the Hudson Institute (a think tank). Vanourek is coauthor of three influential books: Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (published by McGraw-Hill and a 2012 USA Best Book Awards finalist), Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (Jossey-Bass), and Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education (Princeton University Press). He has written several book chapters and reports, as well as numerous articles for leading journals and media outlets, including Harvard Business Review blogs and Washington Times columns. His writing has been featured in or reviewed by Fast Company, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, New York Times, Leader to Leader, Publishers Weekly, Entrepreneur, American Management Association, Center for Creative Leadership, and more. Gregg is a featured speaker and trainer on the topics of leadership, entrepreneurship, and personal development. He is a graduate of the Yale School of Management (M.B.A.), London School of Economics and Political Science (M.Sc.), and Claremont McKenna College (B.A.). He serves on the board of the Vail Leadership Institute.

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