Here’s a bold claim: there’s a simple, powerful exercise you can run with your group that will transform the working environment for the better and provide you with the critical framework for coaching you’ve been lacking.

Drumroll, please! Here it is:

You need to work with your group members to write the rules for membership and success.

That’s it.

You’re welcome.

OK, let’s unpack this a little first, and then I’ll share ideas on how to run this vital exercise.

Here’s What Happens When The Rules for Success are Undefined

Every group has a working environment and culture that emerges over time. The manager influences this environment a great deal and over a long period of time, norms for acceptable behaviors emerge organically. Yet, the absence of clearly defined guidelines on what it means to be a group member and what the ideal behaviors are, leave things open to individual interpretation and many different views on critical behaviors.

The absence of clear, widely understood and agreed-upon Rules for Success introduces variability into the environment and generates all manner of communication, problem-solving, and collaboration dysfunction. It’s common for the manager in these settings to feel as if they spend most of their time acting as a referee between sparring group members. The daily weather report usually calls for drama storms.

Additionally, the absence of group rules for success means the manager has no real foundation or framework for coaching against commonly agreed-upon behaviors. The presence of clearly defined expectations for behaviors cures this problem.

It’s time to work with your group members and write the Rules for Success.

Note from Art: I’ve resisted calling these team values. I don’t want to confuse these local ideal behaviors with the firm’s broader values. They are subsets of the larger values focused on individual working behaviors. Also, we mostly have groups, not teams, and thus the group label referenced here.  

What Type of an Environment Do We Want to Create?

Writing the Rules for Success is an excellent exercise for an all-group session. Tee it up as wanting to strengthen your support of the group and to better define what it means to be a part of the group. I’ve never encountered resistance to the idea of strengthening the quality of the working environment.

Ask these three questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a part of this group?
  2. What type of environment do we want to create?
  3. How do we work together to maximize everyone’s success and group results?

As you facilitate, make sure to draw in the key behaviors that impact how work happens across the group, including problem-solving, communicating, giving each other feedback, helping each other, resolving disagreements, and living up to commitments.

Every group’s Rules for Success are different flavors of the same desired behaviors typically stated in a way meaningful to participants and aligning with the firm’s larger values.

Try running the exercise in two or three sprints. Capture all the input. To avoid the awkwardness of group wordsmithing, I recommend inviting a sub-group to take on the task of fine-tuning the words and phrases and then presenting their recommendations in a follow-on session. (I’ve also seen the manager do the write-up and then ask the group to finalize the list.) Make sure to avoid vague or lofty-sounding but unclear statements. Make these Rules for Success clear and actionable using verb phrases.

Bring Your Group’s Rules for Success to Work Daily

I’m not a fan of drafting nice words that become artwork and empty statements hanging on our walls. As the manager, it’s up to you to bring these Rules for Success to life by referencing them regularly, coaching with them daily, and leveraging them to help navigate the sticky situations that inevitably show up in organizational life.

As you seek to add new members to your group, use the Rules for Success to devise behavioral interview questions. Go out of your way to use them as part of onboarding, and of course, use them regularly for positive and constructive feedback.

You know it’s working when your group members regularly reference the Rules as they work together to problem-solve and innovate.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I love the simplicity and power of investing a small amount of time deciding together what type of environment we want to bring to life. People are excited to have a voice in defining what it means to be part of a group and how they want to be treated. And, you as a manager gain one of the essential tools in your toolkit for promoting the right behaviors, coaching team members, and ultimately, growing the success of all involved.

Art's Signature