Why we involved our team in refreshing our company values
We developed our original values statements seven years ago when Mangrove was a team of five. At the end of 2022, when we did this exercise, we had evolved into a crew of 18 globally distributed team members. Although our original values still felt decently aligned, it was time to more intentionally evaluate how they were working for us and what needed to change. It was important for us to get opinions and feedback from our entire team to ensure we are all fully invested in these values.
We use values statements to declare what is important to us in treating one another, making decisions, and carrying out our work. We think of them as our “North Star”— a guide that helps us make sure our intentions and outcomes are in sync.
In our context as a B Corp, these values are something everyone on our team has to live by, so we better all agree on what they are and what they mean to us. Otherwise, they would be nothing more than words on our website’s “about” page. Why bother? Collaboration was the only way to make these statements authentic and applicable in our day-to-day work lives. Also, whatever the goal, gathering diverse perspectives strengthens our results.
What informed our process
Our work with the consultancy AORTA inspired our approach. We also used aspects of what we learned from the dismantling white supremacy leadership training we did with our B Corp leadership cohort facilitated by Hella Social Impact.
We used our ongoing DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) team sessions to facilitate our values collaboration over three sessions with the addition of individual pre-session work and asynchronous document engagement and editing.
Mangrove’s leadership facilitated our team’s collaborative values creation in virtual sessions using digital tools to accommodate our globally distributed team, but the same process could apply when meeting in person.
Our team-sourcing approach
Team agreements for every session
When our team participates in our DEIJ sessions, we always revisit our “team agreements” to ensure that we start from a positive place and establish an environment of trust and goodwill. Our agreements are:
- Life comes first: We all have different responsibilities beyond our time here at work, and our goal is to find the balance that works best for us individually.
- Trust that everyone is bringing themselves here today and every day as best as they can: Not everyone is able to show up in the same way every day at every meeting or project. Trust that your team members are showing up in the best way they can at this moment. Know that the way we show up for each other and our clients is the energy that fuels our work.
- We don’t always have the answer now: Take the time you need to respond the way you want to. We can’t be articulate all the time, and we can’t always say what we need at the moment. It’s okay to say, “I need some time,” or to take a pass because you don’t feel up to it. It is okay not to have an answer on the spot.
- Hear from all the voices present before speaking twice: If you’ve spoken twice or more in a meeting or conversation and have yet to hear from the others, PAUSE and BREATHE. Allow people to finish their thoughts before interrupting to share your thoughts.
- Lead with compassion and empathy and acknowledge what is right before pointing out what could use improvement: In sticky situations, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Assume people are doing their best and acknowledge what is going well before providing feedback. Understand how you might be contributing to the situation you are analyzing.
- Prioritize time together as much as possible and be mindful of other people’s time and energy: To do our best work together, we must make a meaningful effort to build relationships with one another. We express clear expectations so people can work efficiently and well, and we acknowledge and respond to one another.
Pre-session work: create a values list
Before our first collaborative working session, we gave every team member a list of values to review independently. We used this list created by professor and author Brene Brown as starting point, but any similar list would work.
We asked everyone to choose 3-5 values they felt were important to them personally. From those, we asked them to select the most critical value enabling them to be present, engaged, and contributing at work (aka, to show up).
Session 1: sharing our values
At our first collaborative session, we invited everyone to share the values they chose using a method they found most comfortable. We recognize that not everyone is eager to share as part of a conversation. Some people have a different style of engaging. For others, English is not their first language. Recognizing these differences encourages people to choose how they want to share. That could mean talking about the values they chose, writing them down in the video chat, or placing an anonymous sticky note on our virtual (Miro) whiteboard for an initial round of feedback.
Session 2: reflecting + organizing
Before our second collaborative session, our leadership team sorted through the values that everyone contributed and moved them all to the Miro whiteboard as sticky notes. During the session, we asked everyone to silently reflect on the values with similarities, moving the sticky notes into groups. We then came up with a theme title for each group.
These are the themes we came up with in this session:
Session 3: discussion + refinement
Session three is where things got interesting! We asked the group to engage in two exercises to bring the themes we came up with in the last session into real-world application.
First, we asked them to think of examples and stories of a time when our team/workplace embodied these values. Next, we asked them to think of examples and stories of a time when they wished our team/workplace embodied these values. Once again, people could contribute their thoughts using the most comfortable method.
These exercises offered valuable insights and informed how we later defined our values in their final form.
Here are a couple of examples of the kind of feedback that resulted:
Example of a value in action:
- Well-being: “Disruptive events have happened in my personal life, and each time, I have been able to talk to my managers about it and figure out accommodations.”
Example of wishing a value was in action:
- Inclusion: “We have different speech rhythms, with some taking more time to jump into a conversation.” (ie, sometimes not everyone has the chance to voice their opinion if they need more to think time before speaking, or if english is not their first language – how can we create a more inclusive environment for all)
After reviewing the results of these two exercises, we returned to the six values themes we arrived at in the previous session. Reflecting on the examples and stories we came up with, we developed definitions to explain them to ourselves and others. Including descriptions rather than just listing values provides more clarity and a path to envisioning how we can operationalize them.
We completed this critical values refinement in real time and through asynchronous feedback that we collected and then shared with the group. We refined how we titled and defined our values using a Google Doc, which sparked thoughtful discussion through comments and proposed revisions.
Session 4: operationalization
We didn’t stop once we arrived at our final list of values and their definitions. We needed to put them to work. To make them functional, we had to apply them.
In our final session, our team reviewed Mangrove’s policies and procedures to evaluate them against our refreshed values. Did they hold up? Could we do better? What did we need to adjust?
For the most part, our policies and procedures were in alignment, but there were some instances where we did need to make adjustments. Where that was not immediately possible due to external constraints, we set goals to get to better values alignment, which we committed to reviewing regularly.
Introducing: Mangrove values
An essential step in creating values is making them transparent to support accountability. You can find our refreshed list of values and their complete descriptions on our website.
Here they are in brief:
Life comes first. Take good care of your mental, physical and emotional needs.
Lead with compassion and empathy for yourself and others.
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Our differences are powerful – celebrate them.
- Transparency & Accountability
Say what you need to say. Communicate transparently and often. Be a reliable teammate.
- Exploration & Creativity
Let curiosity fuel growth.
- Partnership and Collaboration
We’re better together.
Find your values path
Team sourcing our values at Mangrove was unquestionably rewarding and engaged our team in a critical component of our Certified B Corp. Although the steps we took required planning, time, and thoughtful facilitation, they were straightforward and likely within the capacity of many organizations.
We hope that sharing our process was helpful and invite you to use it as a template for your organization’s next values refresh, adapting it to your specific needs.
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A Certified B Corp, Mangrove is a woman-owned website design and development company with a diverse, talented team distributed around the globe. We’ve been building websites since 2009 that amplify the work of change-making organizations and increase the competitive power of businesses owned by historically marginalized people.
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