Defining Team Vision and Values

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” — Peter Drucker

Every team has a culture, values, and purpose. It doesn’t have to be written in order to exist. However, writing them down creates an advantage to such teams as it aligns everyone on the expected behaviors and the purpose of that team. It guides them through difficult decisions and motivates them to achieve that vision of themselves.

A company will usually have a vision, mission statement, and also values. However, they might be too broad and disconnected from the actual teams within the company.

I believe that it’s important for every team to define how do they contribute to the company vision and to align on their specific team values.

Going through the exercise of defining the team vision, agreeing on the team values, and actually writing them down forces us to be very aligned and be able to hold each other accountable when what we do doesn’t meet the values of the group.

In this post, I want to explain why I believe that having vision and values are important as well as to share the process of defining values and vision that I’ve facilitated and led with my group (my group, consisting of 4 separated teams).

Core Values

Describe the team’s deeply held beliefs, socio-cultural norms, and unwritten rules to live by. When everyone is on the same page, clearly defined values provide a sense of psychological safety, inclusion, and trust within the team. Values create a standard to live by. Team members aspire to be true to the values and constructive feedback is more effective once it’s connected to the team’s core values.

Vision

It’s important to make sure team members know why they exist. Connect their jobs to the big picture and communicate the impact of their work.

For even the most committed team members, the daily work can be a grind at times. In a vacuum, tasks can seem menial and unimportant. Without a connection to meaningful work, employee engagement and commitment are hard to come by. However, when people believe their efforts are serving the greater good, tenacity and sacrifice are byproducts — and they are a vital trait of high-performing teams. A vision should be inspiring and something that’s hard to achieve. Something that creates a common goal that fuels everyone to try their best, and has their inner drive to achieve that.

I found out that having both vision and values helps not only the team to be better but also when recruiting new team members.

The values help us in better defining what type of person are we looking for and what do we expect from them. Sharing the vision and values with the candidates turned out to be very productive also for the candidates as we are able to share high-level expectations as well as give them a glance of what type of team they might be joining.

The 2 questions

In order to define the vision and values we need to answer just 2 questions:

Why do we exist?

How do we behave?

Seems simple, but it’s actually a really hard job to come up with an answer that really captures everything there’s to say. You don’t want it to be too broad but also not too short. You want to list the most important behaviors and values but not make a grocery list.

And what’s probably most difficult is to make 20 people agree on it.

Who will be making the decision?

There are several approaches to define vision and values. One of them is for the manager or the executive team to define them by themselves and then share them with the team once done. It’s a simpler process as it involves 2–3 team leaders or just the group lead by himself. However, in my opinion, it creates less engagement with the entire group as perhaps the output doesn’t resident with everyone, or maybe that executive team simply missed something that it’s important to some team members. Bottom line, such an approach might create a “this is not my vision and values” mentality. And we don’t want that.

The other approach might be too democratic and might be too hard to come to a conclusion while 20 people are trying to come up with a sentence they all agree on.

So my solution is to mix them up.

Start with the executive team but finish with everyone.

I believe that coming up with the vision statement that it’s agreed on by everyone is a harder job than agreeing on the team values. So I separated the preparations for the vision statement from the values.

It starts with the leader. The leader has to be prepared. Read about other teams and companies' vision statements, outline what’s important in your eyes, and even try to come up with the vision statement by yourself. Don’t share it with your team as you don’t want to create bias. You can share it with your manager in order to get a sense of whether you are in the right direction. Obviously, it’s not the final statement but it’s a start.

1st offsite

The way I envisioned the creation of the group vision and values is by having 2 offsites, the first with only the executive team and the second with the entire group (20 people). I believe that having such deep discussions about culture and purpose should be held outside the office in order to create zero interruptions and move the focus from the day-to-day towards the future.

We all know that putting 20 people in the same room and expecting everyone to be involved in the discussion will most likely not work. So in the 2nd offsite, I wanted to split the group into random teams and let my team leaders lead the discussions in the smaller groups. To achieve that, first I needed to align with my team leaders.

So in the first offsite, we have discussed the 2 important questions and came up with the vision statement, it was much better than the one I’ve created by myself.

The 2nd Offsite

We started with a fun activity to warm and loosen up — everyone had to share what did they want to be when they were younger (I wanted to be a singer if you didn’t know) and the next person had to connect his story to the one before him. It was a fun activity that got us closer to one another before diving into the deep stuff.

What are we proud of?

In order to define the vision and values, we first had to acknowledge the great achievements that we’ve made as a group throughout the years. The things that we are proud of, our attitude and spirit, the remarkable goals the team has accomplished, etc.
This was the first exercise — list the areas that we are proud of. We split into 3 groups led by the team leaders while the members were mixed from all the teams in the group, so in every team, we had new joiners, seniors, from different teams, and managers facilitating the discussion. It was so beautiful to see all members participating, adding topics, and getting to know some of our histories and how did we get where we are today.

Why do we exist?

The next exercise was to answer a hard question — “Why do we exist?” — Why does the group exist in the first place? How does it contribute to the company vision? It was so cool to see that all 3 groups came to basically the same ideas and the same final statement that answers this question.

Every group presented their insights and then we aligned on the vision statement that captures all the insights in the best way. The fact that the team leaders were already aligned on the vision that we came up with earlier helped guide the teams and make sure they cover everything. We remained open to new ideas from the teams and eventually came up with the best statement that captures everything we cared about.

It was important for us to create buy-in for the vision from the entire group.

Managers have blind spots and sometimes might miss areas that are important to the team members “on the ground”.

It’s powerful and exciting. It inspires the team and reminds them of both the company vision and also the importance of their work and their impact on the company. This vision should guide us throughout our work, ideas, and innovations.

How do we behave?

The next exercise was to answer another question — “How do we behave”? What values guide us in our work? We started as a whole group doing “KJ” exercise (putting sticky notes on the wall with all the ideas) with any value that any team member thinks of.

Then we grouped them and came to a final list of values.

After a discussion of what these words actually mean we have split again into the 3 groups and tried to finalize the list in a way that captures all the areas that we wanted to outline as our values (while the existing company values are incorporated in them).

Here’s the result:

  • OpennessWe care about creating an egoless and safe environment where people trust each other, are not afraid to ask ‘wrong’ questions, and feel free to challenge each other.
  • ProfessionalismWe embody professionalism by understanding the big picture, constantly raising the bar, providing innovative solutions, and maintaining high levels of quality.
  • Software Craft: We are responsible to those we work with, admire their passion, enabling them to grow, and work more efficiently.
  • Can DoOur positive, ‘Can Do’ attitude enables us to take responsibility for our domain with the confidence that we will succeed both as individuals and as a team.

All the 20 group members agreed on these sentences that outline the values we want to work by. It was amazing to see all members providing feedback and explaining why they like or dislike them.
After this long day (17:00), all of us went to grab a beer to call it a day.

Final words

The vision and the values are used in different situations like the performance review process, 1:1s, feedback sessions, group, and team discussions, and any other opportunity when we want to have a decision, choose a certain way, improve something, and hold each other to the standards that we have defined. It helps us with recruiting as it creates alignment between us and the candidates and shows them what type of team they might be joining.

It makes me, as a leader, proud to hear the team members reminding themselves of the vision and values when they are choosing a certain path.

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