Each one of us has values. Values are those basic concepts and beliefs about life that we as human beings consider to be fundamental. In theory, they are the guiding principles that shape our decisions, our behaviors, and our relationships. Each person’s set of values constitutes his or her moral and ethical compass. Values are as essential as they are deeply personal.
No two people, now matter how close they might be, share an identical set of values. Human nature alone makes the distinct set of values as wide as the earth’s population. As people we probably have several “big rock” values that are the non-negotiable principles, and we have a host of “lesser rock” principles that help guide us day-to-day but may be more directional than absolute. An example of a “big rock” principle could be one’s faith, which can be the justification to decline an opportunity or resign from a good job. A “lesser rock” value might be a person’s belief in the importance of picking up litter encountered on the street but which is not one over which to jeopardize a job. “Gosh, J.P., I’m sorry I missed the sales presentation to the client this morning but…”
Indeed, values are powerful and complex. Every time you step into a meeting situation, you are sharing space with an array of value sets that are different from each other and your own. And in many respects, these differing value sets often drive conflict and dysfunction in meetings. There are other important causes as well, including personal style, viewpoint (e.g. the engineer’s as compared to the marketing specialist’s), personal power, perceived threats, and sometimes just a person’s mood on a given day. Nevertheless, most human beings do not make a practice of leaving their personal values at the door when they enter a meeting.
This is a good thing, because understanding and identifying values is an important aspect of the job for the process consultant or meeting facilitator. In fact, it offers the facilitator an effective means of addressing differences in personal style, needs, and viewpoint. Most people are more likely to recognize and respond to their conflicting values, but the facilitator or process consultant shines light on the shared values.
By way of example, consider the Acme Sprocket Company, which is struggling with a new line of titanium cogs that has suddenly developed a reputation for unreliability. Recognizing that the company needs to get in front of the problem quickly, the CEO has brought together the key players from sales, marketing, engineering, and manufacturing to identify the root cause and craft a solution. Recognizing the degree of finger pointing that is already going on, she has worked with a process consultant to design and execute an effective meeting process.
The antagonism between the departments turns out to be worse than the CEO had imagined. As part of his preparation, the consultant meets with leaders from each of the departments and learns first hand how deep the divisions truly are. Engineering points the finger at sales for having “over sold” the product specifications. Manufacturing is blaming engineering for providing a faulty design. The sales team is accusing manufacturing of shoddy production and marketing is faulting everyone. The consultant is aware that when these groups sit down together, dysfunction will prevail without some intervention.
The consultant also knows that establishing meeting ground rules, while essential, will not be enough. He needs to get the warring factions onto the same page about something right away or they will never make it through the meeting process. He decides to focus on the group’s shared values about the Acme Sprocket Company. In fact, he has designed an exercise that leads the participants from the continental breakfast directly into the identification of shared values without anyone actually being cognizant of it.
Even before presenting the agenda, the consultant reveals the shared values that the participants have gathered unawares. The question he had posed was, “What is the most important aspect of your work at Acme Sprocket? What is the highest value for you at this company?” Here are some examples of the values they came up with.
- Seeing that every customer has a high quality experience
- Knowing at the end of the day that I’ve contributed to our success
- Making the company profitable
- Being part of a terrific team
- Ensuring that every sale benefits the customer as well as Acme
- Making the best sprockets in the industry
- Customer satisfaction
The revelation of these values is transformational for the group. Nobody can dispute a single one of them, and it has changed their collective reason for being in the room together. They can now engage in the day’s process knowing that their fundamental purpose for being in the meeting is to uphold these shared values, and to do so together. The problem they must solve collectively is merely a means to that end.
This illustration is a fictionalized synthesis of several examples from my own work where the detection of values common to a group has transformed collective viewpoint at the beginning of a challenging meeting process. In most cases, the method of deriving the list did not need to be as seemingly guileful as in this example, but in all cases it was an immediate and major win for the group. The biggest win was that it generated trust that one’s fellow participants were also there for all the right reasons.
In this example, none of the shared values were probably any one person’s “big rock” value. Nevertheless, when brought together in this fashion, they became the big rock value set for the team, the compass against which to check direction throughout the process and beyond. Clearly, values-driven process is a powerful factor for success.
How does your team manage shared values? Do you have value-driven stories to contribute?