The Value of Values: Building Environments of Trust

By Mitch Shepard | Leadership, Human Resources, Best Practices | No Comments

A few years ago I was hired to work with a leader who had just adopted a new team from another part of the company.  When it came time for us to plan a strategy for the team's future he had big goals, intense external pressure, new people to manage and a tight timeframe to work with. Sound familiar? 

In our first couple of meetings together this leader was very focused on creating an explicit vision for the team. The problem was, no matter how clear his expectations were he had not yet created an environment of trust for the team to work within and trust is at the crux of all high performing teams.

While trust-building leadership techniques abound, I have found that trusting organizational relationships flourish in teams where values—both individual and collective—are known and discussed. 

In this article I plan to share practical and tactical methodologies for values sharing that bring teams together.  I will break the process into 4 key sections:

1.  Identifying the values of the Leader
2.  Values and Working Dynamics
3.  Including the Team
4. Creating Shared Identity

Identifying the Values of the Leader

The first step in building trust amongst the people you manage, is to assess what your individual values are. If you can openly articulate your values you give your team the opportunity to fully understand your expectations and goals.

Can you articulate your values?  When was the last time you were aware of the influence your values had on your expectations of others?  Can you remember the last time you felt highly judgmental of another person? Reflect upon moments that left you feeling judgmental, righteous, angry or proud—Can you turn your irritations into values statements?  


Judgment—"I can't stand the way John talks over everyone during meetings." 
Value—"I have values regarding respect for other people.  To me, respect is about listening well to others and trying to understand their perspective."  

Let's examine your core values.  Below is a list of values words. Check off the value words that mean the most to you:

Accountability, Family, Autonomy, Fun, Growth, Adventure   

Balance between work/life, Helping people, Independence, Productivity, Change, Purpose 
Continuous learning, Tolerance, Contribution, Gratitude, Pride in our work, Compassion
Cooperation, Beauty, Duty, Variety, Communication, Power, Commitment, Quality, Challenge, Belonging, Recognition, Peace, Caution, Wisdom, Reward, Leisure, Collaboration, Respect, Creativity, Risk, Ethics, Equality, Excitement, Health, Sense of community, Mastery, Empowerment, Loyalty, Expediency, Prestige, Teamwork, Diversity, Excellence, Knowledge, Friendship, Strength, Tranquility, Trust, Experience, Wealth, Fun, Curiosity, Forgiveness, Understanding, Spirituality, Achievement, Humor, Hierarchy, Security, Passion, Honesty, Walking the talk, Structure, Innovation, Wealth, Other…

1. Next, narrow the list of important values to no more than 6.
2. Jot down a few notes about what each value means to you.  
3. Rate how well you are living each value today, on a scale of 1-5
4. Arrange them from most important to least important. 

How would you go about articulating your top 5 values to your team?  
How do these values inform your life, your work and your expectations of yourself and others?

Values and Working Dynamics

Often people jump quickly to task rather than establishing strong working relationships and expectations. Slowing down in order to explicitly define the working dynamics within a team can go a long way towards building trust. 

The structure I will outline here is one that can be used in multiple contexts including: Bringing new people into the team, establishing team culture on a new or existing team, hiring the right person for a job, or gaining self-awareness about your preferences. These points bring out key aspects of an individual's working dynamic that are important for both the leader and the team members to know about themselves, and one another. 

Working Dynamics

About me: What do people need to know about your values in order to work effectively with you? What are your top 4-6 values?  Share what your values mean to you and a bit about how each value influences your perspectives, expectations, and actions.

Working Structure: How and when should people communicate with you?  What is your preferred structure for interacting with those you manage? Can you list some do's and don'ts? 

My expectations of you:  What are the key expectations that you hold of others?  Narrow the list to no more that 5-6 key expectations.  Hold people accountable to these expectations by periodically pointing out when they are met and when they are not.  

Expectations of me: Expectations work both ways…What kind of leader/team member are you striving to be?  Tell your team what they can expect from you, and then follow through. Ask them for feedback about how you are doing against your expectations.
Including the Team:

While a clear understanding of the leader's values is important the values analysis process gains momentum and meaning when the whole team participates.  Invite each member of the team to share their own version of Working Dynamics. 

Be sure this process is interactive.  When everyone has had a chance to share, ask the team what commonalities and differences they noticed.  Ask the team to call out one or two areas that surprised them, or one or two things they learned about their peer after hearing their working dynamics. You can also leave plenty of time for questions, or schedule a meal to follow so the team has a chance to build on what was said.

Creating a Shared Identity:

Consider doing working dynamics and values activities at a quarterly team meeting. You may also blend values conversations into your regular schedule by asking one or two members of the team to share at team meetings. This will give the team a chance to feel connected and more trusting of their peers. Shared vulnerability builds trust.

Inevitably, certain values will come up repeatedly between individuals. This can be powerful for the team to see that despite different experiences, styles, and worldviews, there are similar values that weave them together as a unit.  In all likelihood you will come across polar differences between individuals in the working dynamics and values exercises. It is worth pointing these differences out and discuss them together. This tactic can help normalize differences on the team rather than setting conflict as something to fear.  Great teams should have both conflict and connection. 


There is an essential and often overlooked place for discussion regarding values in the workplace. To disregard the existence of individual team member's values is tantamount to choosing not to learn his or her name.  Values are inseparable from the individual and therefore inseparable from any organizational entity. By making conversations about values transparent, a leader equips the team with the tools needed to build a foundation of trust, allowing the team to grow towards new levels of effectiveness and success.   

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