As past blog posts indicate, I’m an advocate of defining one’s core values. My values are the guideposts to my path in life. Being aware of my values helps provide direction, make decisions, and maintain a feeling of balance. The same can be true of values for a group of people. In this post I’ll explore the topic of “group values”, answering the question: Can you have Group Values but avoid groupthink?
Group Values – An Example
This post was inspired by the book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. The book is a fascinating read on lessons Tony learned throughout life. In one section he talks about the importance of Zappos culture. After operating for several years, the company collectively came up with 10 core values that are truly inspiring. What’s even more exciting is the way Zappos employees identify with and live by the Group Values. It’s not a corporate mission statement, replete with marketing and shareholder jargon about maximizing profit. Instead, it’s a list of easy to understand guiding principles for conducting Zappos business.
Here are the Zappos core values.
- Delivering WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More with Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
If you’d like to read more about what each of the Zappos core values means, do an internet search on Zappos core values or check out Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.
In my owns words, Group Values are those guiding principles that are directing a group of people. Your troop could be a company (such as Zappos), a church, a community group, a non-profit organization, a team, a school, or even your family.
Groupthink – A Definition
Perhaps the most extreme case of groupthink is brainwashing and/or a cult following. In this instance, followers begin to think whatever their leader(s) tell them, without giving it a thought of their own. Webster’s Dictionary defines groupthink as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent and conformity to group values and ethics.”
In a corporate setting groupthink can easily occur when an outspoken “leader” suggests an idea – and commonly follows this with some something like “..right?!? Isn’t this a great idea?” More junior employees in the room agree, despite their internal conflict or belief that another course of action would be better.
In a family setting groupthink works its way in by member, such as a child, being afraid to voice his or her opinion for fear of getting mocked by older siblings or parents.
However you look at it, groupthink is bad!
So, how can you have Group Values but avoid groupthink?
Here are three keys to successfully implementing group values. These principles are based on my experience working with and leading teams, performing group goal setting, and my research on values.
Key #1: Agree on Values
First and foremost, the core values of your group must be agreeable with all members of the party! In order to truly live by group core values, each person needs to believe in the values and their importance as a guiding principle of the team.
Key #2: Avoid Values Conflict
Second, someone’s personal core values and those of the group cannot conflict! Not all people in your gang will have identical core values, that’s to be expected. Therefor, everyone’s personal core values will not align 100% with those of the group. But in order for things to run smoothly there cannot be any major conflicts!
When there is a conflict of personal and group core values, the individual may identify this immediately and bolt from the group, knowing it’s not something they want to be a part of. There could also be cases where the conflict isn’t identified right away, or it takes several instances of turmoil for the individual to reach a breaking point with the group.
An example of this may be an individual’s top core value being integrity. This person’s employer’s top core value is making a profit, at any cost. A bad situation will arise when the individual is asked to do something in the name of making a buck that goes against his/her personal value of integrity. Or he/she may simply witness someone else in the company doing a dishonest deed. Regardless of how or when the values conflict is identified, it won’t be a good situation. The individual or the group is likely to get hurt or to cause cynicism, resulting in unhappiness, decreased productivity, or worse behavior.
Key #3: Empower the People
The third key to successfully achieving group core values but avoiding groupthink is that all members feel empowered to interpret and live by the group values in their own unique way!
To quote Tony Hsieh speaking of the Zappos.com core values,
Tony captures the essence of what values are and should mean, for everyone, not just a company. Note that how decisions are made, or who can make those decisions is NOT specified. That’s why the Zappos core values work. Every employee is empowered to interpret what the value means. Every employee is given the right to use their own definition of the value to make great decisions.
Let’s look at the analogy of constructing a new house. Group values are the basic structure of the home, providing the necessary support for everything that will go inside. The values include the foundation, sub-floor, walls, and roof supports. This structure will guide what rooms go where, and how they are used. How the house is designed and decorated is up to the individuals in the group. The finishes, the flooring, the paint colors – those interpretations and decisions are all left up to the individual. You may get a few houses that look similar, but even so, what a certain room “means” or “feels” to two different group members will be unique.
Unique Interpretation of Values
As part of a career development program I once had the opportunity to participate in a values exercise conducted in a group setting. The focus of this activity was still on personal core values, rather than group values. Each person had a long list of potential values to choose from. By process of elimination we all narrowed down the full list to our top 10 values. Then we whittled to the top 5, and finally the top 3. (This is a common and helpful method to help develop your own values.)
The next step was to partner up with someone and share our top 3 values, including what they meant, and why they were important enough to reside in the top 3. This can be a very powerful exercise – if both parties are open to it. It’s also deeply personal. Aside from being closer than I ever imagined with this group of coworkers, I realized something of great significance.
Both me and my partner had selected Family in our top 3 values. What amazed me was the difference between our unique definitions of what this value meant to us. Have you ever thought about the myriad of ways a single word can be interpreted? Have you ever thought about what “family” means to you? And then thought about what this word means to your significant other, parents, children, siblings, cousins, grandparents?
Interpretation is important! Empowering group members to make their own decisions based on their perception and understand of what the value means is critical to successful group values.
Why Are Group Values Important?
Many teams function on a daily basis without have group core values. Obviously they are not necessary. You could say the same thing about individuals. Many people go through their entire lives not really giving their values much consideration. These people can still be successful, they can still have families, they can still hold a job. But are they truly happy? I wonder about that.
Knowing your own core values can make life easier and more fulfilling. In a similar way, if you’re part of a group that is important to you, knowing the group’s values can help guide the team in the direction you all want the group to go.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend products/books that I have personally used or read, and that I feel will benefit my readers.