4 Helpful Tips to Building Team Standards and Avoiding Fires

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Did you know that in 1904, the John E. Hurst & Company building in Baltimore Maryland broke out in flames? It consumed the entire building and began to spread to others causing what is now known as “The Great Baltimore Fire.”

Firefighters from the DC, New York, and Philadelphia areas responded to the fire but were unable to control it. This is because the fire took place before city safety standards had been created. There were no fire hydrants in the area. So despite the extra help, with no water, they were all but useless.

The fire burned for 30 hours and destroyed over 2,500 office buildings and homes before it was finally put out. Not long after, cities started creating safety standards that prevented this type of destruction in the future. Standards are important because they can sometimes save us in a fire. Both the physical and metaphorical ones.

This segues nicely into my main topic, creating team standards to avoid the metaphorical “office fires.”

I recently went through a team exercise to build out a set of standards. I wanted everyone to create the standard together but not fall into the trap of design by committee, which admittedly was a difficult balance to find. Below is the process I came up with to manage this dilemma.

The Process

The creation of team standards was actually something that the team wanted. At the beginning of the year, I worked with my group to determine three themed goals. It was an exercise facilitated by me but lead entirely by my team. Dozens of ideas were discussed, and it was discovered that a unified standard was unanimously voted on as a high enough priority to include into our year plan.

Now that my team decided on the direction, it was now up to me to make sure they were put in a position to be successful. I needed to make sure that Standards Creation was a priority by gaving time, focus, and guidance through the process. I wanted to create a recipe for success that we could use while developing standards into the future.

I did this by doing a couple of things:

  1. They chose the goal, so I made it official – I wanted to reinforce that everyone needs to be involved in the creation of standards. I assured them that for this to work, we would need to come together and form something that we could all get behind. I explicitly created a goal for every team member and included it on their annual HR forms. The goal described in detail my expectations for participation and development. I wanted it to be official to make sure it didn’t slip through the cracks or get reprioritized, as so many internal efforts do.
  2. I made everyone responsible but one person accountable – Because I wanted this to be a group effort, I made everyone on my team responsible for the success of these standards. But to make progress, there needed to be someone moving us along the path to success, and it shouldn’t be me. As I said, I look at my position as one of tapping into someone’s ability to be successful, not doing it for them. Therefore, I assigned someone to be accountable for the creation of a particular standard. They were responsible for organizing meetings, keeping track of questions that needed to be answered, and delegating writing duties (even to me) when they saw fit. I too was responsible for the success.
  3. I made myself clear on the arguments I wanted – When a meeting was set up, the person accountable for the project would send out topics ahead of time. I just required the team to come prepared to discuss. I asked that language be used in an objective manner. I explained that phrases like “I like doing it this way” or “this is how we have always done it” should only be used as a single bullet point and not the main argument. Because of this, each conversation was meaningful and near emotion free.
  4. This is not a democracy; I made the final call – I was walking a fine line with this tactic. Design by committee can be unproductive. Sometimes the best advice can be overlooked due to the group trying to compromise with one another. That’s where I came in. If there was a compelling argument to be made, even if it wasn’t the majority, it was always an option. I made sure to keep perspective on what’s best for the company when the team may be overlooking some key facts. This was not a frequent occurrence, but there were a few decisions that had to be made when it wasn’t part of the majority.

Wrap up

As a team, we were able to achieve success with this method with very few lessons learned moments. We created a recipe for success that we will be able to rinse and reuse. The one thing I would prepare you for is when a developer says “I want to have better team standards,” that they really mean “I want the team to standardize around how I do things.” This is a conflict area that you may have to navigate through, and it also may come as a morale hit when pushing through the process. However, if you prepare yourself for this eventuality, and make sure you are clear with the “why” of every decision, you should navigate it just fine.

I hope you enjoyed the read and good luck with implementing this yourself. If you have any questions for me or if you have your process you would like to share, please leave a comment below (or connect with me).

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We Can Lead Our Leaders, but We Can’t Do It Alone

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The election is finally over, and America is gearing up for new leaders in all areas of our government. For some, this is exciting, others scary, but one thing for sure is that things are going to change.

We as a nation have become divided, and to be honest, we have let this separation go too far. Over the last 16 years, the rhetoric has changed from opposing viewpoints to “us vs. them”. If you are not with us, you are against us. It almost like many have picked a home team and a rival, and through thick and thin you root for your home team and against your rival.

This seems to be the case with most hot topics these days. It’s just most obvious in the political world and became especially obvious during this election cycle.

I’ll give you a quick example of how casual it has become. I witnessed a race for a senate seat where both candidates ran attack ads against one another. In each, both used the association to the others “side” as an assault. The Democratic runner used the phrase “conservative values,” and the Republican runner used the word “liberal” as standalone bullet points when discussing their opponent. As if they were bad words or something they should be ashamed of.

The reason this is so messed up is that when they decided to run these ads, they did more than alienate their opponent. All of those who fell under the umbrella of having “conservative values” or being “liberal” also received the same insult. They publicly insulted and shamed the people they are trying to represent. As a voter, this is disheartening.


People might say this is a result of the system, and it’s the responsibility of our newly elected officials to make the changes they promised. They’re our appointed leaders so they should be leading us down this path. Shouldn’t they?

While there are some truths to this thought, it completely omits acknowledgment of our own influence on the system. The system does influence our culture, but we influence our systems by voting. So what came first? Are we the chicken or the egg?

If you really need that answered, simply spend a little time on social media looking at “hot topic” discussions like Black Lives Matter or Election 2016. Read the comments on Youtube videos about the 2nd amendment. It will be pretty obvious that WE have created this divide, not our system. The system is simply a reflection of the way we treat one another. We have unknowingly, and effectively lead our leaders to represent us on a platform of separation, and we get surprised at the way they treat one another.

So what can we do?

Believe it or not, we have been influencing the system for some time now, so we can band together to bring positive change. We have to start dropping the home team vs. rival mentality and learn how to Respectfully disagree with one another.

This is no easy task. I’m talking about changing the culture of an entire country which doesn’t happen easily or quickly. However, there is good news. People are now talking about this “divide” more than ever. This election shined a light on the problem for everyone to see, and people are starting to care. They’re showing it by doing what I’m doing with this article. They’re finding ways to communicate the need for a change publicly. Why? Because change has to happen as a society before we can expect it to happen within our systems.

Wrap up

We have been leading our leaders for a long time, and we will continue to in the future. The opportunity we have in front of us is to lead by example. We can steer our leaders down a better path by striving to model the behavior we wish them to replicate. We have way more power than you think we simply need numbers.

So, I feel that it is my responsibility to lead by example in my little sphere of influence and try to minimize this divide within my tribe. I don’t know how far that sphere goes, but it isn’t very. I encourage everyone to communicate this message out within your sphere, so we stand a chance to promote change.

As always, please leave me a comment if you want to publicly share your insight. Connect with me on social media if you’re interested in discussing further. And let’s try to start being the leaders we want to see.

Thanks for your time!

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The Constitution…Is it Scalable?

Reading Time: 3 minutes


I have a fun fact for you: Did you know, there are spelling errors in The United States Constitution? It’s true, if you look at the States column, you will notice that Pennsylvania is spelled Pensylvania minus an “n.”


Here’s another one for you: Did you know that George Washington almost didn’t attend the creation of the constitution? At the time, he was busy with his estate, and quite frankly doubtful that a united constitution would work. His choice was voluntary.

Of course, he went and later became the 1st president of the United States, but think about how things would have been different if he would have accepted his inability to make time or shed doubt.

The US Constitution is a cultural pillar of our nation. It sets the tone for the present and is amendable for the future. It’s a great example of how you reach millions of people with standard messaging and values. This leads me to question, is it scalable? Can the idea of a constitution be used at the business or even a team level? In this article, I discuss the purpose of an organization constitution and what it could look like.

What is the purpose?

An organizational constitution should be the framework for your company to either move to or sustain a cultural existence. In his book, “The Culture Engine” Chris Edmonds goes into detail about this topic. He states that the purpose of an organization constitution is to clearly establish 1) Purpose 2) Values 3) Strategy and 4) Goals.

In other words, an organizational constitution is a leadership tool that leaders use to provide clarity. The goal being that any employee in the organization should be able to reference it when they have questions regarding company culture or value system.

How to organize it

At the company I work for, we do not have an organizational constitution at the top level. However, at the Division level (next tier down) we did create an organizational constitution. In an effort not to fall out of line with the company mission, we simply used our business’s Mission as a baseline for the document.

To create the document we had to answer the following questions:

1)    Who are we? – Through answering this question, we were able to come up with an internal mission that helps serve our global mission

2)    What do we do to fulfill our mission? – This exercise resulted in us creating 5 pillars of success that all helped us achieve our mission. These will vary for your team/company, but a few examples of our pillars are “Provide Reliable Infrastructure” and “Recruit, Train, Retain Talent.”

3)    How do we achieve excellence in each pillar? – This ties directly to the question above. It’s the “how” to the “what.” For each pillar, we created a strategy to achieve excellence and turned it into a 5-year perspective with achievable goals.

4)    What values do we want to instill into our work? – This resulted in a set of values that are now the foundation for cultural growth. We created a document that goes with the constitution that digs into these values. We call this document the 5C’s; Create, Craftsmanship, Community, Communication, and Change. This is how we set expectations for team members and provide insight into employee growth.

I made sure to point out that we did not have a top-level Constitution because you may not get company buy-in to create one. If that’s the case, that shouldn’t be a show-stopper. I believe you can do this at any level. Just start with your team if needed.

One thing to note would be to keep the overall mission in mind upon creation. A constitution is meant to be unifying, but if it conflicts with the company mission, it could be viewed as a revolt.

Wrap Up

I recognize that this exercise takes time, and starts with a reasonable amount of uncertainty of success. If these thoughts creep into your head, just think about George Washington in the intro. I’d say it worked out pretty well for him and I don’t see why you can’t do the same. You could basically be as big of a deal as the first president of the United States.

On a serious note, if you are concerned with company culture this is a fantastic way to steer the ship. It’s just like everything else and needs to be made a priority to work.

I recommend “The Culture Engine” by Chris Edmonds for further reading if you are interested. And as always, I would love to hear your experiences with company constitutions. If you have anything you would like to discuss, you can always contact me on social media or leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed the read!

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