A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Values are the principles that influence and guide a team’s behavior. When and where they’re absent, self-interest reigns supreme. People begin to protect their own turf, putting their own power and privileges ahead of the well being of the team.
A team’s values are vulnerable to time, turnover, and growth. Leaders have to counteract each of these threats with a specific strategy in order to make sure their team’s values stay strong.
Threat #1: Time
No organization’s values are immune to the wear and tear of time. Like the winds and the rain gradually erode the earth, the grind of day-to-day operations eats away at a team’s values. Over time, the pressing demands of doing business tend to crowd out the principles on which the team was built.
The passage of time diminishes team values, but the investment of time renews them. The key is scheduling time together to celebrate the team’s values. If you publicly praise and honor the people who epitomize the values of the team, those values will get embraced and upheld by others. What’s routinely admired and affirmed by the leaders eventually gets adopted and applied by the team.
Threat #2: Turnover
The constant flux of personnel takes a toll on team values. Experienced veterans, who have long embraced and embodied the team’s values, transition away, and they are replaced by new arrivals who know nothing about the team’s guiding principles. The danger is that the incoming team members will not assimilate to the shared values of the team.
To limit the disruptive effects of turnover on team values, leaders must focus extra attention on communication. First, they must listen intently when interviewing job candidates in order to discover their values. In the hiring process, leaders naturally concentrate on assessing the skills and qualifications of applicants, but they should also carefully evaluate the values of potential teammates. Second, after hiring a new employee, leaders must take time to articulate and teach the team’s values in addition to providing training for specific job responsibilities.
Threat #3: Growth
Growth, especially when rapid, threatens to obscure a team’s values. Like turnover, part of the challenge involves welcoming new people and introducing them to the team’s culture. What’s different is that the size of the organization changes the way a leader can communicate values. Whereas a small business owner can gather her entire company in a large conference room for a conversation, the head of a corporate division has no way to convene all of his employees for a face-to-face, in-person discussion.
To address the challenge of growth, leaders must learn to weave their values into the fabric of a team. In this way, values become part and parcel of the way the team interacts. For example, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, regards “community” as a core value of his church. To reinforce the value, he devotes the first third of every leadership meeting to building and maintaining the personal relationships among co-workers. In this way, the focus on community becomes part of the regular rhythm of the church’s daily life.
Thought to Ponder
What are your team’s top three core values? What are you doing to safeguard them from the threats of time, turnover, and/or growth?