Team Code of Conduct

It’s the New Year, which for many workplaces means out with the old and in with the new.

You could de-clutter your desk, but better still, what about polishing up your team’s work dynamics? Whether you are part of a new team getting off the ground or an established team working on an important project, the New Year is a good time to create a code of team conduct to take you through to the next year.

Teams that work well together are stress free and productive. They experience a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Creating and being committed to an explicit code of conduct helps teams work efficiently while ensuring their well-being.

There are five steps to creating a team code of conduct:

Step 1. Establish Team Readiness

There are two scenarios where you might wish to establish a code of conduct for your team. The first is when you are part of a new team being formed. Members are either new hires or have been brought together to work on a particular project. In this situation, creating a code of conduct will get team relationships off on the right footing.

The second and most common reason for a team to establish a code of conduct is to get it working optimally – something that may not be happening. Signs of the need for a code of conduct include disagreements and misunderstandings or a lack of follow-through. People may be frustrated by a lack of accountability, openness or trust or ongoing unresolved issues.

If any of these things are occurring, it may be time for a code of conduct.

Step 2. Craft A Team Vision

Once your team has decided to create a code of conduct, it is important for its members to ask: “What kind of team do we want to be?” Make a list that includes everyone’s input. For example, team members may record statements like: “We are comfortable taking risks”; “We are creative”; “We are fun-loving”; “We are goal oriented”; “We are honest with each other”; “We make mistakes and learn from them””

Teams identify what they stand for and describe their values through such statements. They also define what they want to aspire to and achieve. These statements also describe how the team sees itself meeting organizational targets.

Step 3. Specify Conduct

Once the vision statements have been drafted, it is important to then answer the question: “What does this statement imply for team conduct?” Each aspiration will contain within it an implicit interpersonal expectation. For example, this vision statement: “We communicate directly with each other” implies people are willing to give each other feedback, take the time to work out difficulties and stick to things even when things get tough. When specifying the team conduct associated with a vision statement, it is important to be specific. So, the code of conduct related to the statement, “We communicate directly with each other” would say something like: “When we have a misunderstanding, are unsure about something or need to clarify a point, we talk to the person with whom we have an issue as soon as possible. Everyone makes themselves available for these discussions which are best done face-to-face. We do not use e-mail or voicemail for these kinds of conversations”.

Each vision statement should have a specific code of conduct attached to it.

Step 4. Build In Accountability

One of the best ways to build in accountability is to ask the team which aspects of the code of conduct might be violated first, or which one might members have the most trouble carrying out. Usually two or three will be difficult. For example, the team may decide that risk-taking and mistake-making (which often go hand in hand) are team aspirations and the code of conduct is: “Develop plans to experiment with new ventures and then try them out. If mistakes occur, the team and the supervisor will support you”” The team may say this won’t happen because as soon as a mistake is made, everyone looks for a scapegoat. So, this aspiration may be more likely to fail and the code will be violated when risk-taking and mistake-making occur.

To remain accountable to the code, the team can assign a member or members to be responsible for flagging when it is being violated. In the case of risk-taking and mistake-making, these team members are then responsible for telling the team that “Instead of supporting innovation and experimentation, we are blaming and choosing a scapegoat. We need to stop and decide if this is really what we aspire to””

Creating a plan for the trickier parts of the code is important to remaining accountable to it. Permission to bring up these kinds of code violations in team meetings is essential to follow-through.

Step 5. Review The Code For Relevance

After three months of enacting your code, it is important to review it for relevance. How well are we living up to our values and aspirations, how well are we “walking our talk” and what is outmoded, not specific enough or needs modifying? The code is a vital and evolving entity. Reviewing it periodically ensures its relevance.

Creating a team vision and code of conduct helps teams make their needs and expectations of each other explicit. It challenges everyone to take responsibility for themselves and the team’s well-being. Being a team player means following the code and actively participating in its creation and ongoing relevance.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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