Establishing the Rules of the Game

When it comes to working in teams, I hesitate to imply that there is one solution that fixes everybody’s problems. On the other hand, there are some problems that are more frequent (and predictable) than others. One of the most common of these involves the stressful situation where everybody knows something (or somebody) isn’t working, nobody brings it up, and eventually there is a huge issue that gets in the way of the productivity of the team.

As leaders, we sometimes look at this situation and say helpful things like, “get over it,” or “grow up,” or “I don’t care if you get along, just get the work done.”  This approach implies that somehow we are not culpable for any of this, which would be great, but often is untrue. In fact, in most cases, the leader and the team could have kept this from happening at the beginning by simply establishing some processes.

By “process,” I’m not talking about a work flow (which is also important). I’m talking about the answer to the question, “How does this team want to work?” Processes are wonderful things because they represent a commitment to a set of actions before the actual content of the work starts to get done. They give us a reference point when things start to get dicey and they help us clarify some issues up front about which we may not have given much thought.  

The key to establishing a good process up front is to ask crucial behavioral questions up front. For Leaders can provide some structure example:

How will we assign responsibilities?

How will we make decisions?

For what time commitment is each of us willing to be accountable?

If we see that something isn’t working, how do we address it?

How often do we update each other?

At what point do we know we are finished?


 There is no magic to the set of questions that you ask and the best way to identify which questions should be asked is to sit down with the team ahead of time and ask, “What is likely to be important to us as we work together on this?” Even young or novice members of your team will have seen other teams work and should have some ideas to offer.

 One final thing: Don’t answer the question and then start immediately on the task. Stay focused on the process until you get to a place that seems fairly complete. You can always come back to it as the project continues. Whatever time you spend up front in a process discussion will pay off in saved time as you progress on reaching your objectives.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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