Ten guidelines to define with your team

My favorite part about working is leading a great team. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the smartest, strongest, and most creative team members around. We have accomplished incredible things together, and truly enjoyed the process.

It wasn’t always easy. A great team is filled with talented, bright, and engaged individuals, but that doesn’t mean they automatically gel into a high-functioning, mutually supportive team. We worked hard to work well together.

One of my tools was to define team guidelines as a group activity, and revisit and refine them as needed as time moved on and assignments or individuals changed. Here is an outline you could follow or adapt to do the same with your team.


Decide how you will allocate time to do this. You can divide these discussion questions for small group breakout discussions, assign some in advance, or for small teams, discuss each of them as a whole group. You can also do this over several sessions or tackle one at a time during your regular meetings. A white board or large sticky pads for visual note taking is helpful.

These questions are part brainstorm, part gut-check. Are we even starting in the same place? Do we need a new method? What would it help us work better together? Go with the flow of the discussion and see where it takes you.

1. What is the purpose of this team?

Here’s a formula to help define this: What need are we filling, what is our product or service, who is the customer/beneficiary/recipient of our work product, and what are the benefits the team provides?

2. What should be our process for setting team goals?

Can we describe our current process? What’s working and what isn’t? Is there a better way?

3. What will be our process for defining tasks and assigning members to complete them?

How will everyone know who will do what and when?

4. How well are we cooperating and sharing work/ideas/information?

What do we do well? What do we need to improve? How will we?

5. How are we handling conflict? Internal as well as external?

What do we do now? Does it need improvement? What would improve it?

6. How do we make decisions? Or, how do we know a decision is made?

Does everyone know who makes which decisions? Is it a joint process? If so, what is that process?

7. How can we inspire creativity?

What can we do to ensure everyone can do his/her best work? What inspires us? What is motivating?

8. How do we want to communicate with each other?

Meetings, minutes, email, Skype, chat, social platform, shared drive, phone? Decide how the team will communicate official work direction, ideas, responses, and products. It helps if everyone understands where to look and when.

9. What should be our guidelines for meetings?

What are meetings for? Will we have a set meeting frequency, time, place? How is the agenda developed? Do we need minutes? Is each member expected to have an update ready?

10. What are each team member’s “get-along” rules?

You’d be surprised (or maybe you won’t be) at how important this one is. Have each member of your team answer a few simple questions about how they work best. There are no wrong answers, and while you will not accommodate everyone (and there should be no expectation that you do), it helps enormously to know that Jen never checks her voicemail (true) but doesn’t mind being interrupted no matter how engrossed she appears to be (also true).

At the end of this exercise, hopefully your team has reached consensus on at least a few of these things, or at minimum, generated some good ideas or unearthed some major discrepancies.

The next step is for you — the manager or team leader — to set actual guidelines based on this discussion and notes. You will not use everyone’s idea or accommodate everyone’s preferences, but you will set the baseline for your expectations and what the team can expect from you and each other.

In setting these guidelines, I think the best decision is any decision. The team simply needs to know what to expect. If you make a few clear decisions and share them, you will put to rest many, many time-wasters and stress-creators so your team can get back to being creative.

Postscript 1: This same process can be used with committees and other ad hoc teams and is extremely helpful. If people are serving on an “extra-curricular” team, it is even more important that they know what to expect to be at all effective.

Postscript 2: Even if no one on your team gets anything out of this exercise, you as the manager have just uncovered a treasure trove of information that should help you be a better leader and manager. How will you use it?

Jen Thorson is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, blogger, and health advocate in St. Paul, Minnesota. She blogs at www.borealisblog.com, www.mylifeinred.net, and www.jenthorson.com.


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