Spend enough time working together in a team and you’re bound to encounter teammates feeling anxious, uninspired or just that general sense of something not being right at work. This can lead to disengagement and ultimately, a drop in performance.
It’s becoming increasingly well known that psychological safety is one of the most important determinants of a team’s success. Along with this, the highest performing teams have a strong sense of dependability, structure, clarity, meaning, and impact.
The question is, how do you create an environment that generates these outcomes?
Shared values bind teams together
Logan and King, the authors of Tribal Leadership, postulate that every organisation has a dominant culture that can be mapped to a one-to-five scale.
Stage five culture (categorised by a “life’s great” outlook) always outperforms stage four culture (with a “we’re great” outlook), which always outperforms stage three culture (“I’m great, you’re not”), and so on.
Their research has demonstrated that the most successful organisations, who function consistently at stage four with occasional bursts of stage five, are clear about their values, talk about them often and are committed to living them.
So, to create a psychologically safe environment where the culture sits at stage four, shared values (and purpose) need to be identified and leveraged to fuel all other activities.
I initially experienced the benefits of aligning on shared values with my manager, Sean, when we worked out how to create a safe space for feedback via a workshop format inspired by agile practices.
I'll explain how we extended our learnings into a format that works in a team setting, but first, it's important to understand how teams get misaligned in the first place.
How Red Badger aligns a team
Our teams typically kick off projects with workshops to clarify their shared purpose, as well as attitudes and behaviours they want to exhibit. Each member of the team is invited to share why they think the team has been formed, what a good outcome looks like, and what behaviours they expect of fellow team members.
At times they’ll hesitate, thinking the answers are obvious – why are we spending valuable time doing this as a group? But more often than not, everyone ends up sharing different responses that highlight the gap in alignment.
The point being, these workshops aren’t designed to just answer these questions, but to reach alignment by identifying and discussing differing points of view.
Facilitating this conversation is especially important in a remote working environment, where interactions need to be far more intentional. It's no longer as easy to build relationships by going out to lunch together or remaining aware of what the rest of the team are up to by overhearing conversations.
As a result, we’ve incorporated activities to help teams align on how they will ensure open and transparent communication, build relationships and learn from each other on an ongoing basis.
Whether you’ve held alignment sessions from the get-go or not, you might find tension building within the team at times. After all, it takes more to sustain relationships than one alignment conversation – you also need to remain aligned as the project carries on.
Remaining aligned with our values alignment retro
For anyone who's worked in an agile environment, the retrospective (retro) will be a familiar sight. It's that regular time where teams get together to facilitate their continuous improvement as a team.
At Red Badger, we typically run these on a fortnightly basis using a variety of formats.
To remain aligned, we recommend running a values alignment retro to help the team identify where they are or aren’t aligned, and discuss how to improve it. Here’s how:
What you’ll need
- This Metro Retro board template (we suggest this tool so people can hide their sticky notes while brainstorming individually), or if you’re co-located:
- Sticky notes and sharpies
- Space (on the board) for values brainstorming
- Space for themed values
- Space for rating two or three values on a scale of 1-10
- 1 - 2 hours workshop time
Step 1: Start with a check-in (5-10 mins)
We like to start every workshop with a check-in because it helps team members to build relationships and ensure everyone has a chance to speak from the outset.
A check-in is where the workshop facilitator (or another team member) asks a question that each member of the team takes turns answering. When one team member has answered, they nominate someone who hasn’t spoken to answer it next.
For this retrospective, we recommend one of the following questions to help everyone build empathy with each others current state of being:
- In one sentence, what kind of a day have you had so far today?
- If you were a battery, what percentage of energy do you have at the moment?
- Pick an emoji to represent how you’re feeling right now and explain why
- What do you need from the group today?
- What’s one thing you hope for everyone to get out of this session?
Step 2: Brainstorm values (5 mins)
Have each person separately brainstorm all the behaviours and attitudes they find important in their working relationship with team members, jotting down one thought per sticky note.
Step 3: Share theme values (2 mins per person)
Take turns having each person explain to the group what each sticky note means, and group related thoughts together. Continue until everyone has had a chance to share their sticky notes.
Where themes have emerged, add a new sticky note with a label for the theme: eg “learning from each other”.
Step 4: Vote on most important values to discuss (5 mins)
To create a priority order of values for the next step, have each team member vote (either with dots or the voting tool) on the 2-3 themed values most important to discuss.
We suggest focusing on 3 values with the most votes and organising another session for the rest if necessary.
Step 5: Scale each value (30 mins)
Take the themed value with the most votes and ask everyone to write down how well they feel this value is being met on a scale of 1 (not well) to 10 (very well).
Ask everyone to reveal their response at the same time and create an average score. Finally, give everyone a chance to share why they rated it the way they did.
Repeat this step for the remaining values (or at least the three with the most votes).
Step 6: Celebrate and Improve
Where you go from there is up to you! We suggest celebrating some values you have all rated close to 10, and picking one or two your team would like to increase your average rating on, agreeing some small steps to get you there.
Step 7: Next steps
Follow up on any actions generated and repeat the retro 2-4 weeks later (steps 2 and 3 may not be required for future iterations unless new members of the team join).
When it comes to the experience of working in a team, everyone brings their own expectations about what matters most. The further away the reality is from a person’s expectations, the greater their dissatisfaction, and thus the greater the impact on performance.
Values inform these expectations, and so the best place for a team to start increasing their satisfaction and performance is by aligning on their shared values.
Get in touch if you’ve run a values alignment retro, or are thinking about hosting one with your team; we’d love to hear your story!