Company Culture

Every Team Needs a 'Code of Honor'

In the absence of rules, people make up their own. Develop an ethical list of rules to ensure success.
Every Team Needs a 'Code of Honor'
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Guest Writer
Adviser and Author
5 min read
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The idea that successful businesses need successful teams behind them is nothing new. Entrepreneurs know that to get to the top, they need to have good people with them. Business is not a solo sport.

But what makes a great team? Culture, personalities and traits are all important, but if you’re looking for a championship-level team, then you need to create a system that holds people accountable for their actions and for each other.

Related: Culture Makes or Breaks a Company When Crisis Hits

It’s the same truth in sports. Sure, you’ll have your star players, but even they can’t succeed unless everyone is on board, playing by the same game plan, motivating one another, referencing the same code of ethics. Even some of the most famous quotes from the late and great Vince Lombardi are about teamwork.

A list of said rules is what I call the "Code of Honor." It’s something I’ve seen in over two decades of corporate training that successful businesses will have in common. It is a set of simple, powerful rules that govern the internal behavior of any team, organization, family and even nation. These rules determine how we behave towards one another. They are what people are willing to stand and defend, and be accountable for. They are what will keep the team moving when the pressure is on.

These rules don’t need to be complicated, but they need to be valuable. Some examples of what I always have in my list are:

  • Always be on time.
  • If you are unsure how to answer a client’s question, ask someone who will know.
  • Commit to personal development and education.

The list goes on, and they can be as customized to your own set of morals, too, just as long as it makes sense for your team.

As I always say, “In the absence of rules, people create their own.” To ensure that your team functions to the best of its ability, here’s how you can start to develop your own Code of Honor:

1. Find a sane moment in which to create the code.

Business is hectic, and sometimes your emotions aren’t always stable. When emotions are high, intelligence is low. Wait until you have a quiet moment to yourself so that you can think clearly and rationally.

Related: 4 Important Social Skills You Need to Succeed at Work

2. Find recurring issues that interfere with the team’s performance.

Is there someone on your team who’s quick to publicly call someone else out? Is tardiness a common problem in the office? Are people simply not communicating with each other on a daily basis? If there’s something that can be better, establish the solution as a code. Everyone should participate.

It’s easy to want to create the list yourself, post it up for all to see, and leave it be. Truth is, for a team to work successfully, the leader must be transparent and open to constructive criticism. Maybe some rules are too egregious for the team. Rules like “Every email sent must CC me” are just not going to fly in your team’s Code of Honor. Plus, when a team feels like they’ve had a hand in shaping the code, the more likely they are to want to uphold it.

3. Be specific.

The Code of Honor is not a mission statement. It’s more direct than that. Instead of crafting rules like “Be professional,” tell your team exactly what you think your definition of that means. Something like, “Do not discuss issues while angry. Calm your emotions before a conversation.” Or, “Never speak ill of a teammate behind their backs. Confront each other on your issues.”

Rules should be challenging but not unrealistic.

It’s easy to go overboard creating your code. You’ll likely want to have hundreds of rules, but that can be overwhelming for your team and might actually hurt your cause rather than help it. Just like the Ten Commandments, start with a short and simple list that everyone can understand and want to strive for.

4. Hold each other accountable to the code.

If someone breaches the Code of Honor, bring it to their attention. If the rules aren’t enforced, then the rules just become another dust-collecting motivational poster in the office. And encourage your team to call you out if you breach it as well. Respect is a two-way street, after all.

Related: Coaching Over Managing: Motivate Your Team

Remember that a Code of Honor is an ever-evolving thing that changes based on the team, the current issues and immediate needs. The code is also a great way to screen new candidates applying for a position in your company. If he or she cannot abide by the rules of your company, then it may mean you haven’t found the right person yet.

If you’re interested in seeing just how functional (or dysfunctional) your team is, you can take this free online assessment. Every team has room for improvement, and this tool will help you figure out the areas where you may want to focus your efforts on.
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