One way to dramatically improve how your team works is to develop a conversational code of conduct; a shared set of agreements for how you’ll work together, how you’ll hold each other accountable, and how you’ll catch yourselves and self-correct whenever someone loses discipline and starts to slide back into old habits.
In Conversational Capacity I shared how a private school in New England agreed on a set of operating principles by which they’d work together. It hangs, signed by everyone in the school community, in a prominent place on campus. Their list included the following ideas:
- No untested attributions. It’s okay to make assumptions, just test them
- No personal attacks or dismissive behaviors (tone, body language, words)
- Have a bias toward conversation, not email. Only use email for the dissemination of information, not for solving problems or airing disagreements
- Keep open dialogue and informed choice as your highest goal, not ego-satisfaction or being “right” or safe
- Make respect, compassion, curiosity, and a quest for the higher good as key drivers of your behavioral choices
- Balance your push and pull. Bring more attention and discipline to how you participate in discussions. No steamrolling, dominating, or withholding
- If someone fails to test, jump in and test for them. Don’t chastise them for not testing, or roll your eyes and adopt a critical demeanor
- If you have an issue with X, go talk to X. No backbiting or “hallway” dynamics
- If you’re not able to reach a solution or make progress, ask a third party for help
- Address breeches of this protocol immediately. Hold each other accountable for these agreements. If you don’t point out when some has violated an agreement, you’re enabling the behavior
A conversational code of conduct like this is powerful because it helps get people on the same page not just about WHAT they’re working together to accomplish but also HOW they’re working together to accomplish it.
But don’t cheat and simply adopt this one. It won’t have any legitimacy or generate any meaningful change. It’s better to sit down as a team or organization and come up with a code that fits your unique circumstances. And, if you’re looking for ideas about what to include or how to get started, my book provides a wealth of ideas on the subject.