Building and leading a successful team is no easy feat, and it can be challenging to get everyone informed, engaged, and ready for productivity. Operating principles are the team behaviors and processes that empower high-functioning teaming. These principles are used to introduce a mindset that promotes buy-in right from the beginning. Stewart Leadership’s years of successful executive coaching have found extensive benefits to teams identifying and adopting operating principles. Teams that identify and adopt operating principles consistently outperform teams that do not take the time to do this. Discussing these four elements with your teams can even serve as a team builder!
Essential Question: How is information going to be shared within the team?
It is important to outline a clear path for information to flow. This will increase accountability within the team when everyone feels included in the sharing of information. Identifying the appropriate methods for communication to occur will proactively discourage miscommunications and promote problem-solving. If one half of the team uses email while the other half uses an internal chat app, information is bound to be missed. Missed information can unintentionally cause some team members to feel let out of the group, leading to mistrust within the team. This can be a common source of tension when individuals feel like they do not have all the necessary information to do their job. Strong communication encourages team members to reach out to their peers for assistance instead of self-oriented behavior like competition or information withholding. Develop strong communication within your teams by outlining what methods will be used and what behaviors are expected during communication. As a team, determine what communication tools will be used for different forms of information sharing.
Essential Question: How do we work together?
No matter the team's work environment, establishing trust and clear roles can make a huge difference in team collaboration. Mutual trust is a critical component of getting people to work together. Teams can successfully collaborate when members feel informed and secure in their responsibilities and roles.
As you develop your operating principles, remember that no matter how collaboratively the team has been working, there will be a point at which decisions must be made. With your team, determine where that line should be drawn, reminding them that you will take accountability for the decision. It’s powerful to put this information into your operating principles. Teams that do not have this understanding may discover that they have inadvertently tied their hands with the belief that they must achieve full buy-in before moving forward or that all decisions must be made by committee.
Essential Question: How do we overcome obstacles?
Healthy conflict spurs innovation and creativity, encouraging teams to have a bias toward action. The trick is finding the sweet spot. Too much confrontation and conflict can create a hostile work environment or focus the team on short-term wins instead of long-term impacts. Alternatively, low conflict cultures move slowly; decisions are made by the committee, and team members are frustrated.
Discuss within your teams what respectful behavior during discourse looks like. Agree upon operating principles that will introduce a common framework for navigating the conflict. Make sure you model how to handle conflict, working to find the sweet spot between a highly confrontational culture and a low conflict one. Promote open discussion, encourage a diverse range of voices, and elicit input from everyone. Creating a roadmap through conflict can reduce anxieties and encourage the team to come together.
4. Decision Making
Essential Question: How do we make decisions?
Outlining expectations for how decisions are made will ensure everyone feels included in the decision-making process. Team members who trust that their team is a safe place to brainstorm and discuss ideas will feel more psychologically safe knowing their thoughts are valued and respected. With the team, determine which decisions can be made independently, which types of decisions will need to be discussed before any commitments are made, and which decisions need to be made by the team leader.
Communication, collaboration, conflict, and decision-making are all crucial elements to the success of high-performing teams. By developing operating principles, you also establish a foundation for your team to thrive and a safe place to revisit if obstacles occur. Build stronger teams by developing operating principles that exemplify these four essentials!