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  • Writer's pictureAscent Leadership Program

The Rules of Engagement

Nearly thirty years ago, Rodney King famously asked, "Can't we all just get along"? Many of us have probably asked ourselves this same question or something similar when we find ourselves on a team that is under-performing or outright dysfunctional. What's the answer to a team that is struggling mightily? How do we reset? What can we do besides give in to some version of the blame game, "checking out" mentally/emotionally or some other corrosive behavior?

One solution is to define the rules of engagement, through dialogue, resulting in an explicit team agreement. These "rules of the road" have different labels (Community Agreements, Ground Rules, Designed Team Alliances, etc.). Regardless of what we call it, these team alliances address two key things for the team: 1) produce an express agreement of the type of culture and atmosphere the team wants to co-create, and 2) creates shared responsibility and commitment from each person on the team for those behaviors needed to achieve the desired culture and atmosphere.

A designed team alliance creates a foundational platform from which all other work will occur. Research clearly shows that increasing the positivity on a team also increases productivity (Goleman 2005). It also suggests that teams that create clear conflict and decision making protocols do better than teams without those agreements (Guttman 2008).

So, where do I start? How do I implement or design a team alliance? Here is one way to approach it.

  1. Explore what the high-level purpose or agenda is for this team. This is not a deep dive and you'll want to place this in the "parking lot" after some initial agreement on it: i.e., "maintain safe highways and roadways in our region", "process timely and accurate unemployment claims for Oregonians", "provide case management and services for X population", "develop transformational leaders", etc...

2. What is the culture, space, or atmosphere we want to create in the team (division, section, department)? The dialogue prompts below can help you get clear.

  1. How would you know you had that? (get clear as to what it looks like in action)

  2. How do you want it to feel? (empowering, supportive, safe, spacious...)

3. How do you want to behave/act together when things get difficult? What are our conflict protocols?

4. What commitment do you (individually) make to help ensure the team creates this culture and atmosphere? Who do you want to be together? **this is key, it doesn't bring attention to how I want YOU to be, but more on what I commit to be and how I'll show up.

In addition to co-creating the atmosphere of the team culture, it is important to have solid behavioral agreements. These can be explored and built over time as you work together. What are the agreements around accountability, remote work, video participation, delegating tasks, making decisions?

A final note. Team alliances are created in a co-responsible environment. The agreements are co-authored as a team, not just what the manager/leader wants for the team. These are what "we" agree to and as the team changes, we revisit them with newly added team members. This concept fully embraces the notion that "WE are the culture" and are all responsible for what we want to have in the work environment.

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