Teams and their leader need to have explicit agreements about how they will work together. The term, Rules of Engagement, was originally a military term outlining the circumstances under which opposing forces might engage with each other. It has been extended to include intimate relationships, and their purpose is to create safety so that difficult topics and conflict can be addressed without fear because both partners agree to adhere to certain rules.
Rules of engagement (ROE) also create psychological safety in a team. The ROE outline how team members will deal with each other and with specific topics, and the purpose is to create clarity. Psychological safety is always prejudiced when team members don't know how things should be handled. It is further prejudiced when they (or the team leader) don't like the way things currently tend to be handled.
When you take on a new leadership role, this is a time for you and the team to discuss and reach agreement on how you will work together. If you were previously a member of the team and now you are the manager of that team, it is also an opportunity to talk frankly about the change to the relationship – “Yesterday I was one of you. Today I am your manager. Let’s talk about what that means.”
Rules of engagement would touch on such topics as:
- communication: what to communicate, how to communicate, meetings, sharing of information, etc.;
- decision-making: how decisions should be made, who should be involved, who has the final say, etc.;
- conflict: what does this team regard as conflict; how to we expect it to be handled; how robustly do we expect to debate issues; how do we intend to resolve conflict; what will we do if we get stuck; what do we share with the team.
Here is a starter agenda for such a discussion:
- Meetings: How often shall we meet? What will we discuss? How will meetings be led and by whom? What preparation is required? What participation is expected? Whose responsibility is it to make sure our meetings stay on track?
- What do we believe and expect regarding action items, deliverables and deadlines?
- How will we make decisions? Do we favour consensus, majority rule or “managerial edict”?
- How will we resolve conflict? At what stage do you want to be involved? What do you want to know about conflict that has been resolved without your input (if anything)?
- What are the team’s views and expectations around timekeeping, working from home, taking personal time, leave, after hours contact, etc.?
The next article will deal with a different type of ROE conversation - that between a manager and a team member to agree on how they individually will work together.