I could feel them rolling their eyes behind my back. I knew that they were all just humoring me. Going along with the program because I was the one in charge of the agenda. Happy to be out of the office for a few days and willing to put up with pretty-much anything to spend some time in a beautiful place.
We’d taken our technology development team off site for a vision-mission-values focused get-away. They were happy to talk about vision. And all-in on working on mission. And skeptical that they even had values.
I anticipated their reaction. And I was prepared.
I had everyone take the Character Strengths Survey and bring along their results. Then knowing that there was no convincing these data-driven geniuses, I instead proposed a hypothesis. I told them that the values literature says that individuals commit themselves to work that aligns with their Personal Values. And successful teams are built upon a foundation of Shared Values. If the literature is right, I told them, then we already have a set of shared values. Because we are committed, driven, and work as an incredible team. We merely need to uncover them. Want to try it?
They are a curious bunch, and agreed to the experiment. So I asked everyone to reveal their top five and their bottom three Character Strengths.
We were only a third of the way around the room when their expressions started to change. Their open skepticism shifted to amusement, and I knew they were ready to play. The similarities were striking. My hypothesis withstood the first test.
So we broke into pairs to complete a values discovery exercise. I wanted them to take the Character Strengths work to the next level, to describe their personal values in their own words. And boy did they deliver! One PhD engineer scrawled Kicking Ass across the top of her personal values sheet.
We brought everyone back together to share and went around the room again. This time we made notes and stars next to the words that got everyone’s heads nodding. And we asked the group to share when words were resonating. We pulled together a list of values we all could get behind. And in one inspired moment, our PhD engineer summed up the feeling in the room, and the words posted on the walls, when she explained, We get the right shit done! It’s that simple.
And it was that simple. And it was also true. Without intending to do it, we identified our overarching mission. The purpose of our group. In a single morning, in a room full of skeptics, we had uncovered our shared values. We created a shared language about what is important, and a rubric for making decisions about our projects going forward.
Later, they thanked me. Individually, of course, and honestly, for giving them the time to think about what’s important, and giving them a venue to share with people they respect. They felt seen and heard. They felt connected to the team in a whole new way. And most importantly, they knew that their values would be considered when we made decisions that would effect their work.
I repeated this same process in a much larger group of much more skeptical scientists and engineers. The outcome was the same. As much as they might deny it, or roll their eyes about it, exercises like this are necessary even the highest technology groups. Engineers have values, too. And we're all better off when we recognize them.
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