Rules of engagement help define how your team will interact. They are like the "We Card." signs you see in every convenience store. Those signs were created to help the store workers identify and prevent age-restricted sales of tobacco to minors. 

In the past, convenience store workers had to ask each customer wanting to buy alcohol or tobacco for identification to ensure he/she was of legal age. This became awkward for the store workers. They had to visually assess who might be close to legal age (not a position I would want to be in). As a result, they had to risk the legal implications if they did not ask for identification from someone who was not of age. They also had to deal with the wrath of those who were offended by being asked for identification.

Today, with the help of "We Card." signs, workers only have to point to the sign. No fuss, no risks, nothing personal. It's a rule of engagement that is understood by all parties.

Defining the rules of engagement for your team can yield similar benefits. They create accepted ways of acting and interacting so your team does not have to think about or debate what is appropriate in each situation.

Think back to your school days. Each teacher, usually on the first day of the year, explained the classroom rules of engagement: raise your hand if you have a question, request a hall pass to use the restroom, place your homework on your desk each morning, respect others' property, etc. These rules helped both the teacher and students focus on the most important things in the classroom--learning.

Defining the rules of engagement can help your team focus on what is most important--performance. They might address how to:

  • make decisions,
  • share information,
  • consider ideas for improvement,
  • coordinate hand-offs,
  • review work,
  • challenge prevailing thought,
  • prioritize and
  • resolve conflict.

Look to your team and company values for hints of appropriate rules of engagement. Your current challenges might also be a place to look for ideas. For example, one team who was having trouble getting all input on the table during their staff meetings defined these rules of engagement:

  • Speak your mind during meetings, not after.
  • We accept and encourage constructive disagreement as necessary to yield the best decisions for our team--nothing personal.
  • All problems must be presented with a solution.

Rules of engagement do not have to be wordy, but they must fit your team and be embraced by them. Here are some other examples:

  • All reports must be reviewed by at least one other team member before leaving our department.
  • If an issue is not resolved after five e-mails, you must meet (phone or in person) to resolve the issue.
  • Customer-related tasks are always a higher priority than internal tasks.
  • No team or committee meetings last more than one hour.
  • Every project is debriefed for lessons learned within one week of project completion.

Boost your team's efficiency and performance today by defining your rules of engagement.

Read sample chapters of the author's bestselling book, Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees.

Published on: Oct 22, 2014
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