How long does it take to get a team to agree on four words?

August 14, 2008

Way longer than you would imagine. As part of a strategic planning exercise with organizations, I always have a team begin with a values exercise to determine what the core values of the business stakeholders are and align those values among those team members. Regardless of whether the organization has a pre-determined set of stated values or not the variety of values that surface from the participating team members is amazing.

Amazing because very few of the values that originate during the individual accumulation process are the same among the senior team members. It is no wonder that many organizations are feeling stretched by the arrays of values, being espoused by their leadership team.

Over the course of approximately 4 hours with vigorous discussion, the team will arrive at 3 or 4 values with agreed definitions. These values are always in priority order.

What is interesting is that no matter what the objections to the process – typically commitment phobia (team members struggle with the reduction process of going from many values down to very few) – they buckle down and feel good and are relieved by their achievement. Typically they feel the lack of originality to the values they chose. That is until I ask them the questions that resolve them to the act of signing in blood (OK no blood is drawn) with their words. It is not only the values that they have chosen, it is additionally the prioritization, and the meaning behind their team’s discovery.

When a team takes 3 to 4 hours to agree on four words think how much other communication is likely inherently not aligned among organization’s stakeholders – especially given the speed in which we do business today.

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