At this point in the journey, your team should have a clear sense of what mountain you will climb (Vision) and which path you will take up that mountain (Mission).
Most teams might stop here; however, there always comes a point in the journey when challenges happen and tough decisions must be made. Sometimes you are around to help your team make that decision; other times, your team has to make the decision without you.
How will you, and your team, know which is the right decision to make?
This is where core values come into play.
Core values are a set of guidelines that your team agrees to. They are guiding principles to help your team make decisions and know how to act in any situation.
Apple has a core value of nothing getting released until it’s beautiful and perfect.
Facebook (aka Meta) has a core value of quick releases but even quicker fixes.
These massive companies have two totally different sets of core values that define how they should act in any situation.
So what are the core values of your team?
There are many processes to create your team’s core values; however, I find “Mission to Mars” by Jim Collins a great way to develop your team’s core values.
The final result is to create a list of 3 to 5 core values for your team. These values should be more than just generic words like “integrity” and instead should be phrases that can be used in a conversation, such as “Our actions align with our values.”
Here’s how it works:
Imagine that you are leading a team on an expedition. You will be with this team for an extended period, and your mission is very important, such as flying to Mars. If you were in charge of picking the team, write down the names of five people you would bring on this mission besides yourself on a piece of paper. Next to the names, write down up to three attributes that this person has that make you want to bring them on the mission. (e.g., My Uncle Aaron because he is relaxed, hardworking, and a creative problem solver).
For step one, make sure you do this work by yourself and don’t let anyone else in the room see your answers so that we avoid any sense of groupthink or hurt feelings because people are not perfect.
Go around the room, and each person shares just the attributes, not the names, of the people they chose for the mission. Write all of these attributes on a big whiteboard. Add additional checkmarks next to the attributes that are repeated.
By the end of step 2, some groups will find that 3 to 5 values will already stand above all the rest, and they don’t need to filter anymore. If that is the case, you can skip to step 4.
If your group doesn’t have a clear set of winners, the team should pull out the top 6-10 core values from the list and have everyone in the room privately rank them from most to least favorite. Then go around the room again with each person, sharing their ranking and the points tallied on the whiteboard. From here, the group should be able to pull out the top-scoring 3 to 5 values.
As you go through each step, it’s also a good idea to continue having conversations about each core value so that everyone understands what they mean and that they genuinely make sense.
Now that your group has its final set of core values, we want to turn the generic words into phrases that have meaning for your group. This process can be done through group conversation, or it can be done through a more organic process where we use the generic terms for now. Still, everyone keeps their ears open for potential replacements that are said throughout the rest of the retreat.
The last and final step of this process is to rank your core values because there will be times when your core values will conflict with each other, and your team will have to know which core value trumps the others. For example, you might have a core value that says, “Go fast!” and another one that says, “Save money!” These two might be in conflict occasionally, especially if the only way to save money is if we extend the timeline for something. So by ranking your core values from most important to least important, everyone on the team will know how to act if a conflict between the core values arises.
Congratulations! You and your team now have a vision, mission, and core values. These three are the foundational principles on which everything you and your team do will be based. This kind of work is not easy, and some often skip it, thinking it’s unimportant. However, those who do skip it will only face the consequences later when challenges arise, or they will continuously drift in whatever direction the wind blows that day.
Now that this foundational work is done, we can move on to the next part of the retreat, which answers the question, “What are we going to do?”