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A team with shared values creates a proactive workforce

16 January 2018 12:42 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


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Why should the members of your team get out of bed on a heavy rainy morning and trudge through deep overflowing water to come to work? If your answer is a simplistic ‘because they’re getting paid to do a job’, you probably don’t appreciate the importance of having a clear and compelling team purpose.

They come to work because they want to contribute through the work they do:


  • They want their work to have meaning – to be meaningful rather than be meaningless or pointless. 
  • They want to make a positive difference, for example, to the following: the success of their organisation, lives of other people and their lives, also.

Team purpose

Having a clear and compelling team gives you power. It serves the purpose of enabling team members to contribute through:

(1) Having a clear focus.

(2) Harnessing their energy.

(3) Enabling every individual to express himself/herself.

(4) Using their talents, wisdom and expertise.

(5) Experiencing a sense of fulfilment through their contribution.

So, how do you create a compelling team? For that, you need to involve the members of your team to answer few important questions. And then, assimilate the answers to produce a simple, clear and concise statement of your team’s purpose:

(1) What is our raison d’être? Or, why does this team exist?

(2) Who do we serve – who are our customers and stakeholders and what do they expect from us?

(3) What is our team’s unique contribution to making our organisation successful and/or achieving our organisation’s (strategic) objectives?

(4) Where have we been and where are we going?

(5) What can we extract about the purpose of this team from documents such as strategic or business plans, department objectives/plans and so on?

Share your team’s purpose with your customers and stakeholders – groups who are interested in and/or are affected by the work your team does – to test whether it resonates with them.

You may have to go over this process several times to refine your team’s purpose into a clear and concise statement. Try the ‘lift statement’ test: is the description of your team’s purpose so clear and concise that you can explain it to someone in a lift in the time the lift takes to travel five floors without stopping?


If you cannot quickly and clearly define your shared values and behaviours, do not sweat yet. You aren’t alone. Most of the teams initially hesitate at those questions. The inability to easily call to mind those values stems from two common deficiencies

Achievement target

Invest time in clarifying and producing the team purpose, values and behaviours that together give your team its identity and have a unifying effect on it.
Remember: what you need to achieve should be the following:  

(a) A purpose that unites everyone because people perceive the purpose to be so irresistible that it not only grabs and holds their attention but they also feel compelled to contribute everything they can to achieving or delivering the purpose. 

(b) Shared values and behaviours that are principles and reference points to guide how the team members work together in achieving the team’s purpose. 
Shared values

If you have shared values and behaviours in your team, you will achieve a lot of benefits: 


  • Create better understanding and communication.
  • Help people to function and work better together and feel better about what they do.
  • Create better co-operation and alignment of people towards a common goal.
  • Create the glue that keeps the team together.
  • Help to focus attention on the right issues.
  • State the ‘fingerprints’ of the organisation.
  • Create greater value for all the stakeholders.


What are the shared values around which your team aligns?

Can you easily rehearse the behaviours that you and your team have agreed to expect from each other?

If you cannot quickly and clearly define your shared values and behaviours, do not sweat yet. You aren’t alone. Most of the teams initially hesitate at those questions. The inability to easily call to mind those values stems from two common deficiencies. 

One: the behaviours your team would value have never been clarified or agreed upon. 

Two: if the values are clear, they have not been discussed often enough to merit easy rehearsal. Gain clarity and alignment around your values and you will facilitate sustainable success and satisfaction in the pursuit of your vision.

What does ‘shared values’ mean?

Most organisations have a documented body of ‘shared values’ that adorn the walls of lobbies and conference rooms. More often than not, they occupy more physical space in the office than in the active memory of your team members. 

In a healthy organisation, the values represent a group of behaviours your team is unwilling to compromise in the pursuit of their vision. Reaching agreement around, and clarifying, the behaviours that matter is the result of an intentional process. When that process is ignored, stated values are often vague or generic.

Vague, generic values elude accountability

Healthy teams bypass terms like ‘integrity’ or ‘honesty’ because the vocabulary is cheapened by overuse. This doesn’t mean that integrity is not important; it simply needs definition within the context of your organisation. Your values are the specific behaviours that your team deems important for the health of your team in pursuit of your vision.


The desired behaviours that you agree to as a team are critical to your health. In light of that, we need to remind each other continually of the behaviours that facilitate our pursuit of success

Gain clarity in your organisation

The process of mining for accurate vocabulary to define shared values is illuminating and often funny. When you decide to move away from vague and ill-defined ideas that serve only to populate inter-office posters, your desire for healthier cultures really will begin to emerge. 

The process of identifying specific desired team behaviours tends to expose a number of weaknesses of your team which were hidden under carpet. For a leader, a few things are more satisfying than seeing a team discarding weak behaviours and blend around with behaviours they all can agree around.

The second deficiency is common even among teams who have been through a clarifying process. It is a lack of frequent rehearsal of those values. Many teams make the mistake of identifying the values, codifying them in the corporate documents and promptly moving on to the next issue at hand with no plan for reinforcing the values through the ranks of their organisation.

You have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse your shared values

Yes, you have to rehearse often. Your organisational health depends upon clear values that are reinforced.

The desired behaviours that you agree to as a team are critical to your health. In light of that, we need to remind each other continually of the behaviours that facilitate our pursuit of success. 

Find creative ways to reward team members who best exemplify the shared values. For example, I recently spent a couple of days with a leadership team. We evaluated how well the team members were reflecting the behaviours that matter. The team member from each site that most often represented the team’s shared values received a letter and a small gift from their manager. That’s one simple way to reinforce the value you place on your values. 

Make it clear

Take your team through the process of identifying the behaviours that you expect from each other in the pursuit of your vision. Once you have a simple list (four to six statements are easier to assimilate than 10-12) that everyone agrees with; then rehearse them at every level of your organisation.

Take a moment in team meetings to recite or discuss at least one value statement. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy discussion; just keep the ball in play. Revisit the desired behaviours monthly to ensure alignment and integration. Informally score yourselves on your reflection of the values.

Hold each other accountable to model the behaviours you want to see. Gently remind team members who are consistently behaving in ways that don’t reflect what your team values.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on

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