In-person or virtual teams often struggle with how to define acceptable behavior and how to interact with each other. It is not uncommon for team leaders to make the assumption that team members will intuitively know how to act and interact, which can lead to conflict, division in the team, and a lack of team cohesion.
The most effective way to address this problem is to develop a team code of conduct. This document serves as a basis for determining how to engage and interact with others to create a positive workplace environment and culture for all. A team code of conduct becomes even more important if the team members are located in different areas of the world and may not have the same background or work experience.
By working together to create the document, the team helps to develop a unique way of functioning. In most workplaces, the team code of conduct must also include the company or business code of conduct and expectations for a workplace climate and culture.
Principles to Include
The principles of the team are the overlying issues that the team is committed to focusing on within their interactions and roles. These principles can include ethics, professionalism, communication, conflict resolution, individual rights, or statements on freedom from discrimination in any form.
In many cases, the team code of conduct principles includes language on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion or DEI. Not all team documents include the principles or mission statement of the team, but it is a method of creating a unified picture of what the team aspires to create.
The team norms, or the rules for the team, can be developed by the team leader and discussed and modified as part of a team activity. It is also possible to start developing the team code of conduct as a group, modeling the leader as part of the team rather than the decision maker for the team.
Not all team members have experience in this type of activity. It is helpful to have general terms and language prepared in advance to start the process.
Some of the essential team rules or norms that are typical in these types of code of conduct documents include:
- Commitment to the team – completing work by deadlines, communicating with team members, supporting each other
- Communication –when, where, and why communication will occur between team members. How to interact with others outside of the meetings (platforms, response time expectations, managing different time zones)
- Leadership and team meetings– how to manage team leadership at meetings (rotating leader, appointed team leader, reporting out, who attends meetings
- Organization – equality of team members, how meetings will be held, how to comment or participate in meetings, meeting rules or guidelines
- Conflict management – decision making, problem solving, and managing disagreement or disputes within the team
Depending on the nature of the team and the scope of the project, additional components may be added to the code of conduct. This can be a working document, with different items added as the role of the team evolves.