How leaders (like you) can set guiding principles

management Jul 27, 2023

Building a successful and high-performing team requires more than just bringing together a group of individuals with various skills and expertise. It necessitates the establishment of clear guiding principles that serve as the foundation for collaboration, communication, and decision-making.

Guiding principles are the core values and behaviors that team members commit to uphold, fostering a positive and productive team culture. We will explore the steps involved in setting guiding principles for a team and how this process can contribute to team success.

Step 1: Inclusivity in Principle Creation

The first and most crucial step in establishing guiding principles is to involve all team members in the process. Excluding team members from this crucial decision-making stage can lead to disengagement and a lack of commitment to the principles later on. By actively involving everyone, you ensure that each member feels invested in the team's shared values and behaviors.

Step 2: Defining the Meaning Behind Concepts

Often, general statements such as "respect each other" can be open to interpretation, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. To avoid this, the team should collectively discuss and define the meanings of these concepts together. By sharing individual perspectives and understanding the diversity of viewpoints, the team can form a shared understanding of each guiding principle.

Step 3: Reflecting on Past Experiences

To help the team see the value of setting guiding principles, encourage open discussions about past experiences with both good and bad teams. By analyzing what worked well and what didn't, the team can identify key behaviors that contribute to success and those that lead to failure.

Step 4: Identifying and Avoiding Bad Behaviors

Once the team has identified the bad behaviors that led to negative experiences, the focus should shift to avoiding these behaviors. Brainstorming together and accepting all answers without judgment is essential at this stage. Avoid wordsmithing or dismissing any entries during the brainstorming process to encourage open sharing and creativity.

Step 5: Focusing on Concrete Behaviors

To ensure clarity and applicability, the guiding principles should emphasize specific, actionable behaviors rather than vague statements. For instance, instead of stating "everyone respects one another," the principle could be refined to "actively listen to others' perspectives without interrupting."

Step 6: Narrowing Down the List

With the list of potential guiding principles in hand, engage the team in further discussions to consolidate the ideas and identify the most critical behaviors. Aim to arrive at a manageable list of 6 to 9 guiding principles that best reflect the team's collective values and aspirations.

Step 7: Seeking Commitment

Once the final list is ready, individually approach each team member and ask for their commitment to the guiding principles. If any hesitations arise, avoid making a spectacle of it. Instead, move on and return to those individuals later to understand the reasons behind their uncertainty.

Step 8: Uncovering the "Why" Behind Hesitations

When team members express hesitation in committing to certain principles, take the time to delve deeper into their concerns. There might be personal stories or past experiences that shape their perspectives. Understanding these underlying reasons can foster empathy within the team and enable constructive conversations.

By following these steps and involving the team in the process, setting guiding principles can create a strong foundation for collaboration, trust, and shared success. Remember that guiding principles are not set in stone and may evolve over time as the team grows and faces new challenges.

Regularly revisiting and reinforcing these principles will ensure they remain an integral part of the team's identity and culture. With a well-defined set of guiding principles, your team will be empowered to achieve its full potential and excel in any endeavor it undertakes.


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