Team Operating Principles

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Team Tool: Solid Relationships
Focus: Team Operating Principles*
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Practical Applications – Developing Mutual Accountability
To be accountable is to be answerable. It’s an implied obligation to give an account of one’s actions, progress, or
results. Notice the qualifying adjective: “mutual.” We are more comfortable being accountable to an organizational
superior. Accountability has been a cornerstone in the traditional hierarchical organizations. But being accountable
to my peers and colleagues, . . . what does that entail? “I don’t want someone sticking their nose into my territory.
What do they know about it anyway? I’m the finance expert on this team! Don’t they trust me?”
It makes perfect sense that others would want to know how you are doing on your part of the job, because in an
interdependent situation, if you don’t succeed, then we don’t succeed. As a team, we will hold one another not only
responsible for progress and results, but for upholding team ground rules and operating principles as well.
Team members may resist the concept of accountability for several reasons:
1.
They may see their job as their job, rather than their part of the larger task.
2.
They may be afraid of the consequences of poor performance. If the team merely uses accountability as
a disciplinary strategy, team members will soon discover that openness is painful. They will become
less open and forthcoming in expressing their needs.
3.
The third barrier is poor relationships—who would want to be accountable to individuals they did not
trust, respect, or accept, or vice versa?
4.
Finally, holding one another mutually accountable requires sensitivity and skill. How do we create an
atmosphere that allows people to be honest about needs, shortcomings, mistakes, and does not
challenge them personally or put them on the defensive?
One way to help the team develop an accountable environment is to ensure that everyone understands what mutual
accountability is, why it’s important, and how we, as a team, actually go about holding one another accountable. For
a team to really embrace the concept of accountability, they must believe that it will be within a supportive
environment.
Team Tool: Team Operating Principles
Many effective teams have discovered the benefits of having the team develop and agree to a list of explicit operating principles
that define how they will expect team members to behave when interacting with one another. The chart below provides an
example of operating principles. Notice that these operating principles (some teams refer to them as relational ground rules)
express each item in the present tense rather than saying, “we will.” Team members wanted to ensure that each member
understood that this was how we should be treating one another today versus good intentions for the future.
Team Operating Principles – Examples

We are open and honest with one another

We treat each other with dignity and respect

We listen to and respect each other’s ideas and opinions

We hold confidences

We honor our commitments

We support and invest in each other’s development

We routinely critique our processes
* Adapted from The Performance Factor, Pat MacMillan (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001)
Copyright © 2001-2007 Copyright TRIAXIA Partners, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Team Tool: Solid Relationships
Focus: Team Operating Principles*
_____________________________________________________________________________
Practical Applications – Developing Mutual Accountability (continue)
Two Key Issues
There are two important issues about operating principles:

The time to develop them is when there doesn’t appear to be any need for them. They are often most
useful in times of stress, but then it’s too late to call time out and develop the list.

The team operating principles level the playing field for team members. They allow team members to
have a powerful impact even when they are not in a powerful position—Mary leveraged the power of
operating principles, and she was the least senior of the team.
Five Simple Steps to Create Team Operating Principles
[Team leaders], developing team operating principles is something you can facilitate with your team. You need only
a flip chart and 30 to 45 minutes of discussion time. The exercise involves five simple steps:
1.
Explain the purpose of team operating principles to the team (that is, this is a list of the ground rules
that we, as a team, want to be characteristic of our relationship and interactions). It is important for the
team to understand that any team member may “blow the whistle” if a ground rule is broken.
2.
Using the flip chart so everyone can track the discussion, brainstorm as a group which principles the
team wants to be descriptive of your relationship. Like any brainstorming session, don’t attempt to
fine-tune the wording merely capture the ideas as accurately as possible.
3.
Assign the one or two best wordsmiths on the team to take this input and rework it with the objective
of reflecting the team’s intentions within the clearest possible fashion. (hint: we suggest a few,
essential principles, somewhere between four to six should do)
4.
As a team, review the finished product, making any additional changes needed to capture the full intent
of the team.
5.
As team leader, look for opportunities to model the principles as well as opportunities to reinforce the
principle if it is violated. I have found that once a team sees how the principles can be used to reinforce
healthy behavior with no negative side effects, other members will begin to take the initiative to speak
out.
* Adapted from The Performance Factor, Pat MacMillan (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001)
Copyright © 2001-2007 Copyright TRIAXIA Partners, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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