Managing a Team? What are Your Rules of Engagement?

Typically, when a new team is formed or when a project is launched, everyone involved wants to get to the heart of the matter quickly. Time spent on preliminaries, like discussing how the group is going to work together — your rules of engagement — is seen by many as a needless formality, and by some as an outright time-waster. “Let’s just get to work,” say the team’s results-oriented, get-it-done members.

However, without mutually agreed-upon rules of engagement, your team runs a big risk of encountering operational problems, interpersonal issues, and poor team performance.

What Are Rules of Engagement?

Rules of engagement help set expectations about how a group of people are going to go about getting their work accomplished. They include operating rules such as meeting length and attendance expectations, and work product rules like agreeing on how team decisions will be made and how work will be shared.

These rules are intended to help YOUR team and your particular circumstances. For example, if your team is meeting virtually, rules about arriving in the virtual space 5 minutes early or keeping your webcam on at all times might be more relevant and important. If your team is hybrid, with some members in-person and some remote, not allowing side bar conversations between in-person team members might be important.

Rules of engagement also include rules that help the team build team trust, engage in healthy conflict, strengthen team commitment, foster accountability to each other, and focus on team results.

Why Bother?

  • One person thinks the team should meet twice a week, another expects the team to meet twice a month.
  • The team leader plans on making all final decisions. Others expect that the team will vote on final decisions and recommendations.
  • Everyone communicates via email, except two team members who insist on using text messaging.
  • Some team members expect individual assignments to be completed before the next meeting. Others believe their “regular” work comes first and will work on their assignments when they can.

The possibilities for confusion, unspoken assumptions about how the team functions, missed deadlines, and the resulting disagreements are almost endless. That is why establishing rules of engagement is so important. It creates a common understanding, clarifies desired behaviors, and defines how work will be accomplished up front, before the team gets into the work — and before people start filling in the blanks on their own.

What do Rules of Engagement Include?

Rules will differ for different teams — and different organizations. Generally, they include rules of behavior, operation, and work output, such as:

  • What is the meeting schedule? How long will meetings run?
  • How will meetings be structured? What does a typical agenda look like?
  • Who runs the meetings?
  • What is acceptable in terms of late arrivals and/or early departures?
  • What is acceptable in-meeting behavior regarding eating, using smart phones or other devices, pets, turning off your camera in remote meetings, etc.?
  • How do you use language — e.g., is casual profanity acceptable?
  • What level of confidentiality within the group is expected?
  • How does the team engage in debate and discussion when they disagree?
  • How is a team decision made?
  • How does information about decisions get shared?
  • What is the preferred method of communication between meetings (email, phone, text, specific online platform, etc.) and norms regarding the use of each?
  • Define acceptable time frames for getting work done: replying to questions and distributing deliverables, including draft work.
  • What is the level of freedom to engage one another’s staff?
  • What do I do when someone breaks the rules of engagement?
  • How do we appropriately call each other out?
  • How will we settle arguments?

The important thing is to create rules of engagement that work for YOUR team and set the stage for your team’s success.

To learn more about high performing teams, and developing your leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.