Values Are the Foundation of Collaboration

by Billy Pittard on November 4, 2010

“Values” is a word that has been abused so much that its meaning has become a little vague, but it simply refers to what someone treats as important. In other words, it’s what they value. Core values are the values that one holds most dearly and resists changing over time. They are the values that most actively influence one’s choices and behavior. When you think about “values” in those simple terms, it’s easy to understand why it’s so important that collaborators have values that are compatible with one another, and are in alignment with business goals.

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

For the most part, our values as individuals are the result of our life experiences. Since everyone experiences life in their own unique way, everyone’s values are unique. Values make us who we are.

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do.”

Elvis Presley

Most people probably share a fairly common set of values, so it seems like there shouldn’t be much of a problem, but of course, that’s not the case. The trouble usually comes when individuals’ values are unbalanced. For example, a person might be so focused on a very narrow portion of their values that conflict with other people with a different focus is bound to happen sooner or later.

Imagine the potential conflicts in these two examples:

1.    Someone who is very bottom-line focused working with someone who is myopically focused on creative work.

2.    Someone who is a team player working with someone who is overly focused on their own personal success.

Everyone is little different and most of us are probably a little unbalanced in our values. Those of us with extreme unbalance in our values probably have something in our background that made them so. It’s important to recognize these things about ourselves and others. That recognition can help us with our interactions – and it can help us achieve better balance within ourselves. Deeper understanding of ourselves and others is always a good thing.

Values aren’t necessarily virtues. In some cases, values can actually be harmful or negative while bringing gain or reward to those who hold them. For example, gangs are notorious for their ruthless disrespect for laws and human life, but those values reward them with money and power. Just because something is valued, doesn’t make it good. I once heard of a creative boutique that had an “official” set of values that were shallow and narcissistic, but they actually helped the firm win business. They had self-reinforcing negative values. Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince is a classic example of dubious values used for personal gain.

Values in groups are often a reflection of the leader’s personal values. However, the values that helped that person become a leader are not necessarily good for a team environment. Sometimes, those same values are actually toxic to a group dynamic.

Most groups acquire their values by accident. They are the result of random experiences, and they typically change over time. These random values may even be in conflict with each other. Random values are a crapshoot, but you can be certain that when a group of people works together for a while, group values do emerge.

If you want to know the true core values of an organization, don’t just look at what the organization says is important, look at what they celebrate and reward. And be sure to look beyond financial compensation because some of the most important rewards are social in nature. For example, giving someone credit and praise in front of their peers can be a huge reward, whereas a raise can go by almost unnoticed.

What is celebrated and rewarded in your organization? Are they the things should be celebrated? Think about it.

Good or bad, values have a powerful effect on how well an organization achieve its goals.

In the healthiest, highest-performing environments, values are deliberately chosen and defined to help the team perform at their best, in alignment with the goals of the organization.

When an organization fails to deliberately identify and nurture an appropriate set of values, the group will organically develop its own values – and they will definitely not be most favorable to the goals of the organization.

An appropriate set of values helps everyone in an organization make better decisions, such as who to hire. They help avoid and resolve internal conflicts. They help people understand how they should conduct themselves within the organization.

Developing an appropriate set of core values takes work. The values need to come from the culture. There must be consensus, or there will be no buy-in. But they also need to be guided by someone with executive perspective to what is actually important rather than was has been treated as important by default.

Implementing a set of core values is another thing altogether. They must be communicated, nurtured, practiced, and enforced. Otherwise they are merely platitudes that no one takes seriously. The core values need to be infused into key mechanisms throughout the company’s structure and processes. Some examples include orientations, performance reviews and company events. If there is any conflict between the values and processes, one or the other must be adjusted to resolve the conflict, or the values will fall apart. If the values were wisely chosen, it’s probably the processes/operations that need to change.

If you are an individual looking for a place to do your best work, look for places that appear to have values that are compatible with yours. Take the time to review your own core values. Are they helping you be your best?

If your organization is experiencing a lot of internal conflicts, there is a high probably that the problem is one of values. Your organization is wasting resources if its values aren’t clearly defined and aligned with business goals. Pick up the phone and ask for my help.

Please share your comments about values issues you’ve encountered.

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