Setting the Stage for Successful Team Work

Not long ago, Charles and his wife remodeled their kitchen. They made some design modifications to the original layout and installed new cabinets, flooring, countertops, and fixtures. One day during the remodeling, he was surprised and intrigued to realize that something in the day-to-day work of his carpenters was applicable to his own work in a large engineering firm.

Charles was fortunate to have two highly skilled professionals doing the work. Working from home himself, Charles noticed that they spent the first 30-45 minutes of their day… talking. They began every day this way.

At first, Charles was annoyed. “Stop jabbering and get to work!,” he’d think. Then, he realized that these two experienced pros spent the beginning of each day talking about how they were going to approach and complete the day’s work. They measured, discussed, prioritized, remeasured, planned, and measured again. Then, and only then, did the “work” of cutting, drilling, and hammering begin.

Charles thought about how, at his company, new teams often rushed into their “work,” ignoring or glossing over discussion about how they were going to go about doing their work, and how they were going to approach their work with each other.  

In-person. Hybrid. Remote. The work platform doesn’t matter — the carpenters’ process brought home to Charles the vital importance of setting expectations and establishing the “rules of engagement” for team behavior in order to get quality work accomplished.

As with Charles’ carpenters, on the surface, this work may appear to be a waste of time. It sounds a bit bureaucratic and doesn’t seem like work — “Let’s just get into this project deliverable,” says your go-getter colleague. Deliberately setting forth rules of engagement — for team behaviors as well as processes for getting the work accomplished — allows the “cutting, drilling, and hammering” that follows to result in something efficient and effective.

Launch a Team by Creating its Rules of Engagement

An excellent way to organize rules of engagement for your team is to produce a written document, created by team members, as soon as a team is formed. Rules should address both team behaviors and how work will be accomplished, including:

  • 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 virtual 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?

Rules of engagement generally include a mix of operating rules, work product rules, and rules that reinforce building trust, engaging in healthy conflict, and growing team commitment. Rules of engagement also support the broader concept of accountability within a team. For more about accountability, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “Essentials of Team Performance: Accountability,” and “Avoiding Accountability Derails High Performing Teams.” The rules of engagement will vary for every team. What’s important is that the rules for your team work to maximize your team’s performance.

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