team values

How Do Values Fit Into a Team Dynamic?

Written by on October 26, 2015

Organizations increasingly depend on the work of cohesive, high-performing teams. It’s essential that leaders create an environment in which all members can thrive and contribute meaningfully. Ensuring that you are aware of and respect what motivates each of your people can help you highlight their strengths and leverage them to accomplish goals and objectives.

Seeing Team Members Differently

One of the fallbacks of working with a team for any length of time is that we tend to see others a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always seen them. This person is quiet; this person is analytical; this person is creative. We may not realize they have underlying strengths that aren’t utilized within the team dynamic we’ve created.

The Birkman Assessment, a multi-dimensional assessment that aligns roles and relationships for maximum productivity and success, is a useful tool to help us identify the various strengths we have around the table, facilitating a deeper understanding between members. With these insights, we can forge a stronger, more effective team.

Another way to get at the underlying strengths in our team members is a values exercise that digs into areas such as the qualities we most admire in those we trust, love, or look up to, as well as the experiences that have made us feel fully alive.

This activity works well in teams that are comfortable sharing and being vulnerable with one another. In teams that are not, members can do the exercise independently and share the outcome summary. Perhaps, in addition to uncovering values, it will help them create a stronger bond and sense of trust.

Regardless of the specific tool, the goal is to identify the values of the individuals in your team and ask, “How do we tap into them? Do we need to? Or is it just good to know? Will it help us work more effectively – or simply allow us greater insight into those with whom we work?”

Creating a Diverse Team

Teams can become too similar, particularly if they have had the same leader over a long period of time. People tend to hire those who are like them: if they’re outgoing, like thinking out loud, and enjoy collaboration, for instance, they hire employees who share those values. It can be difficult to make progress in a meeting full of these people! Everyone’s thinking out loud; they can’t stop talking long enough to make a decision.

On the other hand, leaders might hire someone who is not like them. The outgoing manager, for instance, may choose someone who is quiet and thoughtful. This person prefers to reflect before talking. The risk is that the leader starts to think this new team member has nothing to contribute. In fact, it may be that this person has fantastic ideas but is not comfortable sharing in an active, verbal environment or without first taking time for deliberation.

The value of understanding what drives others is that people begin to appreciate what’s different about each other. We can say in that meeting, “Bob, we know you’re processing all this internally while we’re all blabbing away, so what are you thinking now?” It makes it ok for him to speak up when he may not have felt comfortable doing so before.

This is just one example. Teams are filled – or work best when they are – with diverse people, strengths, and values. When we understand that, we can use it to achieve better results.

When to Assess Group Values

  • It’s often helpful to do some type of values exercise anytime you feel your team is facing a significant change. It could be that you’re moving into a new stage, adding a new member, or accepting new accountabilities.

    This is an opportunity to be very intentional about identifying our values as individuals and as a team, and determine how we want to demonstrate, share, or recalibrate them.

  • Before and when you need to recruit employees. Some companies look at their corporate values and say, “We need someone who demonstrates these three aspects.” What can happen, though, is that they recruit people who are very similar to those they already have onboard. The strengths and skills begin to look the same.

    Smart leaders look around the table and say, “I already have someone who’s analytical and can think through problems. I have someone who is very creative and engaging with employees. What I need is someone who has a strong strategic capability and can anticipate what’s going to happen in five years, or who has a systemic view of how our industry works.”

    This type of leader recruits people who can fill the skills gaps that they see around their tables. Rarely do we have the luxury of building teams from the ground up. When we inherit them, we have to figure out who we have, and then figure out if they’re who we need.

Fundamentally, people are driven by their deeply-held values. Compensation matters. Job title matters. Perks matter. Interesting work matters. All of these certainly matter. But what matters more are values.

What all of this tells us is that people who know each other well, who work in an environment that recognizes and values their strengths and vulnerabilities, achieve the most success as teams. We can enable this success first by leading with our own values and then by supporting our teams to do the same.