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

Comments (1)

  1. Michael – I love the definitions. They really clarify what you’re working towards. And, it’s helpful to refer to those definitions when things are hectic or changing.

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