How and why to create your team’s core values

Written by: Stacy Pollack | Edited by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on June 10, 2021 | Reading time: 6m

If you’ve ever worked on a team that has strong core values, you’ll know what a powerful guiding force they can be. Team values help create a shared understanding around how to work together and sets the tone for how to treat one another.

While your team objectives give your employees a destination, your team values will help them forge the path to get there.

Getting your team involved in establishing common values early on and deciding what they should look like in practice is the best way to create values that have a lasting impact.

What are team values and why do they matter?

Core values describe people’s deeply held beliefs that guide their actions and behaviors. At the individual level, each person’s values will be shaped by their own experiences, desires, and how they see the world.

“Values help guide actions, behaviors, and create team norms. They can act as a north star and help your team move in the same direction.”

Google Re:Work’s Create a team vision tool

Having strong core values for your team provides employees with a guiding light that helps them achieve desired results. If your team places a focus on always pleasing the customer, you know that they won’t put forward work that is not client focused. If they value kindness and empathy, they will be more inclined to behave in a way that fosters trust, collaboration, and connection with their colleagues.

Research shows that having well defined team values can help employees feel a greater sense of inclusion, take more calculated risks, and experience psychological safety with one another. Your team’s core values will guide them in every decision they make, so it’s important to take this process seriously.

Build your own team values: A framework to follow

While there are plenty of values available to be found online, applying a blanket set of values to your team won’t provide the meaning and guidance values are intended to make. Every team is different, and so their values will be too. If you want your team to be personally dedicated and accountable to the values, you need to include them in establishing them.

1. Dedicate 2-3 synchronous hours to meet as a group

This activity will require some dedicated working time as a group. Whether you are working in person, remotely, or in a hybrid or distributed model, schedule a few hours as a team to meet. Let people know ahead of time what they should expect and how to prepare.

You can tell everyone to reflect on the following the following prompts in preparation for the session:

  • Think about the most meaningful moments you’ve had on the team.
  • What differentiates the team from other teams?
  • What drives the team when working together?
  • What are behaviors from leadership which inspire and motivate you?

Asking your team questions will get them thinking about what values drive meaning and importance for them.

2. Identify values as a team 

Based on the reflection from step 1, have your team identify their top 5-10 values which they feel describe the team’s current or aspirational state.

Have everyone write down each of their values on a sticky note and place them on a white board. If you’re collaborating virtually, practice the same activity using Google Jam Board or another online tool.

With the values all laid out, the team can look for the common themes in the reflections from step 1. They can cluster people’s values into groups of common ideas, and then vote to narrow down their values down to 3-5.

3. Discuss and describe the values 

Once you’ve described the “what”, it’s time to describe the “how.” For each value you’ve created, discuss and write out a few actions that demonstrate what this value looks like in action.

At this stage it’s about really outlining what every value means to the team and how it might be actualized. You can do this by defining the values with words or phrases and elaborating in a short description with examples.

For example: If you choose creativity as a value, then a behavior or action might be described as offering unique experiences to each of your clients.

4. Create a slidedeck

Once you’ve created your values and associated behaviours, you can create a presentation that outlines and explains what these values are as well as how and why you’ve arrived at them.

This way, as your team grows and you have new employees, you can go through the presentation and onboard them into your culture early on.

Tried and trusted values to use as an example

While we do recommend creating your own values, here are some examples of common values with brief descriptions you can draw inspiration from.

  • Doing the right thing: We always act in an ethical way towards our customers and each other, even if it’s not convenient or beneficial for us. This means we step up to the plate and admit when we make mistakes, we help each other out, and we make sure our customers are always respected. We’re empathetic towards one another. 
  • Innovation: We like to think outside the box, and we create work that is authentic, engaging, and original. We do this through our blue sky thinking, growth mindset, and always questioning out biases. Pushing past the status quo is who we are. 
  • Collaboration: We work together and take a “we” beats “me” mentality. We don’t work in silos, we share information, and we value open source. This means taking time to communicate, explain, and share our thoughts with one another. 

Here are a list of other popular values you can draw from:

  • Openness
  • Volunteerism
  • Enthusiasm
  • Respect
  • Compassion
  • Accountability 
  • Integrity 
  • Teamwork
  • Customer focus
  • Communicating with impact 
  • Developing self & others
  • Drive for results 
  • Humility 
  • Passion

Living your values day-to-day:

It’s not enough to have your core values pasted on a wall or presentation. You need to be explicit with how these values should be lived out in your day-to-day culture and business.

If you’re in a leadership position and your team values openness and transparency, then forgetting to communicate important information and involving your team in important decisions will signal to them that your values are not real and don’t carry any weight.

Once you’ve created your values, commit to actions that support them. This will help build trust and connection with your team. 

Ways to reinforce team values include:

  • Talking about the team values in your O3s.
  • Asking people how they feel the team is living by their core values. Tools like Officevibe help you get a clear picture of how your team feels.
  • Creating recognition and team rewards based around rewarding behaviors that embody these values.

Shared core values unite the team around common beliefs and serve as a compass that team members can follow when they don’t have access to a manager. Do you have team values? Get started today!