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Team Values – Why and How


It had been some time since the team looked at our core values. The division head came back from a Dale Carnegie leadership training with some zeal for having us look at their value cards. Since we had a Release Retrospective coming up anyway, I decided to focus our effort on refreshing this aspect of our culture.


To prepare the team for our group workshop, I sent out an email that contained many examples from other well-known organizations:

…as well as the Dale Carnegie Value Cards list (consistency, fairness, passion, etc. )


Since the process of figuring out your team values is real work, it’s fair to ask whether the process is worth doing. Here are the key benefits of articulating your core values:

  • Identity – create team pride with good values
  • Culture – describe what it feels like to work here
  • Success – define what is rewarded here
  • Speed – facilitate quicker conflict resolution
  • Affinity – attract and retain top talent
  • Transparent – make your company acquisition friendly



A helpful way to illustrate the impact of clear team values is the keel of a sailboat. The keel helps the boat stay upright (don’t tip over) and stay on course (don’t slide sideways). To do so, it offers some friction in the water but this is a price we are willing to pay for the safety and progress that the keel affords.

Core Defined

What does it mean that we have core values?

  • Fundamentally valuable even when not rewarded
  • Desired in every organization we build
  • Timeless


How your values are stated can take different forms:

Curiosity (learn rapidly; seek to understand; broad knowledge)
~ Netflix

Focus on the user and all else will follow.
~ Google

I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
~ The Ritz-Carlton


Our process to capture and refine values went like this:

  1. Capture personal ideas (quiet writing – 10 minutes)
  2. Form teams (we had 3 groups of 3-4 each)
  3. Group similar terms and define Core Values (cards – 15 minutes)
  4. Post findings on board (10 minutes)
  5. Refine the list (10 minutes)

Focus Question

The key question everyone was asked to ponder as they generated value phrases was:

“What is important in our team and what is unique about working here?”


The goal was to arrive at 5-10 values we hold dear. Individual groups were asked to limit their list to five items. The team findings round started with 10 items on the board and we settled on the following seven, listed in no particular order:

  • Integrity
  • Work-life Balance
  • Passion
  • Fun
  • Quality
  • Life-long Learning
  • Adaptable to Change


What exactly do you mean by Quality? Is it a low defect count or a high usability index or something else. We thought it important to define each of our terms. Here is the final list we came up with:

Value Phrase Description
Work-life Balance We respect the life circumstances of each person
Passion We succeed by loving what we do
Fun We enjoy coming to work
Quality We ship work that makes us proud
Integrity We act from our highest principles
Life-long Learning We constantly seek new knowledge and avoid past mistakes
Adaptability We adapt readily to a dynamic environment


A key part of our self-improvement was the observation that our previous list of values had fallen out of memory. We tested this at the beginning of the workshop with a little pop quiz.

As a result, we resolved to have our values made more visible and to refresh the group’s memory of them through periodic reminders. To that end a colorful poster was made, copies will hang in several shared spaces, and a monthly reminder will highlight a given team value.

Image credit: Creative Sustainability

Really? You’re gonna be like that?


I have a generally affable disposition and placid demeanor. A long fuse, if you will, and the ability to get along with many types of people. But there are a few things that get under my skin.


Unless God cut you out of the herd and told you that you are special, get over yourself. Or rather, just be yourself and lose the posturing. If we acknowledge that you’re a big deal, can we move on to building something together instead of stroking your ego?


If you really just don’t care, would you please choose a job where your lack of enthusiasm is irrelevant? There’s a good lad. Oh, and try not to infect those who believe that their work matters.


You can revel in stillness and do nothing if you want to. Just not here, where people are doing actual work. Take your inaction and work-shifting down to the unemployment line where it belongs. If you can still move, that is.


Your dream of working for the CIA is admirable, but until they return your call how about sharing what you know with the rest of us working stiffs. Secretive kingdom-builders are neither appreciated nor long endured in a value-oriented culture.

Do you mean Style or Functionality?


My lovely wife and I own about half of the vintage (old) cedar-sided house where we live in Lilburn. Like an idiot, I painted it a nice chocolate color, so it virtually screams, “Chew on me!” to every nesting varmint in my neighborhood. Decisions have consequences and, yes, I digress.

In the master bath we have a shower stall with sliding doors. It’s a simple affair with chrome trim (aluminum, I’m being generous), a towel bar that doubles as a handle, and semi-frosted glass. Not the fancy frosting they have today but the old warped glass they used circa 1980. You know — the kind that looks like the glass maker messed up? No clear section at the top. No laser-etched roses. Just your basic two sheets of glass that move back and forth, hanging from little plastic rollers at the top.
Do you mean Style or Functionality? Click To Tweet
The doors work pretty well now, but they’ve had issues. Did I drop the vintage hint already? A couple of years ago they were sticking rather badly when you tried to roll them and the results were not stellar. Sometimes, I would come into take a shower and find that the doors were completely jammed — as in pulled off the track and immovable. This was the result of my charming bride (remember her?) getting frustrated with the sticky doors and jerking them upward. Now a semi-violent upward motion, as you might guess, is not the “as designed” movement for a sliding glass door. This pulls the rollers out of their tidy little groove at the top and causes them to, well, not be rolling any more. Instead they are jamming. This is good for guitar friends but bad for shower doors. After a short sigh, I would reset the door by hoisting it up and gently guiding the rollers back into their familiar groove. Somewhere around iteration ten of this cycle, I decided to look more deeply into the matter.

Turns out the rollers, and not the dirty track at the top that I had wiped out several times, were the issue. Obtaining new ones from my trusty Amazon account (any fans in the crowd?), I installed them in about twenty minutes and rehung the doors. Problem solved.

If you toured my home as a potential buyer, and overlooked the clarion call to birds and squirrels, you would eventually look in the master bath. Correctly, you would deduce that the shower stall is quite out of style. The chrome trim is old and starting to corrode around the edges. The glass is boring and there are no special touches to remember fondly to your spouse upon your return home. If you closed your eyes, however, and slid the doors back and forth, you would think these are brand new doors, so smooth is their operation. They are highly functional, but not stylish.

Which brings me, at last, to my point. If you are half as persistent as the birds dwelling in my siding, you are still with me and the payoff is at hand.

Suppose I replaced my shower door frame with something in a nice bronze color, and updated the glass to be clear at the top with a pretty laser-etched drawing in the middle. The shower would look very different. That is, it would have a more modern style. But it would work exactly as it did before. That is, the functionality would be identical — sliding doors hung from plastic rollers. If I changed the doors out to use hinges instead of rollers, the door would then work differently, even if I kept the same style.

Now for the application. You knew there would be one, right? This isn’t a fine art site, after all. The next time you’re in a conversation about software, whether it is a website or an accounting package, and someone confuses you with talk about changes or new features, ask them this question: “Are you talking about the chrome or the rollers?” When they cock their head at you like the RCA dog, clarify with this: “Are we talking style or functionality?” Are we changing the way it looks or the way it works?

  • Look = Style
  • Work = Functionality

Programmers and User Experience experts make things work the way they should. They make software useful and efficient. Graphic Designers and style experts make it look beautiful and be consistent with your brand. Occasionally you will find people who do both.

Hopefully this little trip through my antique animal sanctuary will help you use the right words in your next debate about style vs functionality. I wish you smooth rolling.


Photo credit: Atelier Teee via / CC BY-NC-ND

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