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Standards of Excellence

Standards define expectations that eventually determine the level of performance a team deems acceptable. Standards determine the type of technical competency required, the amount of initiative and effort required, as well as how people are expected to behave with one another, how firm the deadlines are, and how results will be achieved. Ultimately, standards dictate the rewards for success and the consequences of failure.

Pressure to perform can come from a variety of sources:

Three variables are integral to establishing and sustaining standards of excellence. They are the extent to which:

We have already established that engendering trust among team members is critical to the ongoing success of a team. Another way to establish and maintain trust is to focus on accountability, or standards of excellence. Teams should aim to create standards (or, like deadlines, they can be created for us) and hold each person accountable to act or perform in accordance with the standards.

Often what happens with teams is that things go wrong and everyone knows that there is trouble but no single team member is willing to confront the problems. If you were to talk to people individually, you would likely hear them articulate a wide range of problems (individuals who don’t show up consistently, someone who constantly holds side conversations and does not seem to pay attention, or a leader who does not run meetings effectively, etc.). The problem is that team members don’t know precisely how, are simply not willing, or don’t have a mechanism to confront the issue with the team as a whole. Team members may not want to bring about conflict, may worry that they are the only ones who perceive the issue as a problem, or might be waiting for another team member to take on the problem. Often team members are willing to leave things as they are rather than address them head on because they fear confrontation would be detrimental to the group.

In order to alleviate such problems and support team members if they wish to respectfully confront an issue, there needs to be in place a work environment in which we can articulate our standards and can hold one another accountable to them – not in a blaming way but in a helpful, productive way that helps the team move forward. Standards can help teams to do just that.

Like ground rules, standards give us a framework for our process of working together, as well as a structure under which to accomplish the team’s desired outcomes. Standards should exist for individual performance (e.g., ground rules) as well as team performance (e.g., a Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth the team’s purpose in working together and outlines the commitment of each participating agency). It is important to make our standards clear and to revisit them often. Failing to develop standards and to hold people accountable to what they have agreed to do as members of the team can have quite a negative impact on the group’s work.

Consider the following example: perhaps someone on the team has gotten the idea that there is no standard for the form or accuracy of the meeting minutes. So they volunteer to do the notes, and feel that as a volunteer, they should be able to do a quick job and the team should be appreciative. However, these notes may be part of an official record and they need to be in a certain format, spell–checked, and approved by the whole team. Shouldn’t everyone be made aware of that? And, what if no one says anything? Will that person’s performance influence the performance of others who volunteer at subsequent meetings? Or will everyone quietly resent the individual for not performing?

When standards have been established, the tone has been set for what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in a variety of arenas – technical, interpersonal, and professional. Having standards that are consistent with the values and principles of team members, whether those are set by the team leader, by the agency sponsoring the team, by the high or low profile of the team’s purpose, or by the individuals who make up the team, is important to building team unity and building team confidence, which will ultimately contribute to team success. Teams should refer back to the standards they have set, and should measure their progress against those standards, continually reevaluating what can be done to improve their work together and ultimately, accomplish their goals.

Click here for an exercise that will help your team to establish standards of excellence.

Click here for a sample Memorandum of Understanding.