Operating Values: Virtually and In-Person

by Jessica Delaney, Principal, Strategic Communications and Engagement

Have you ever had an interaction with someone and you thought: “wow, that was rude” or “what was that about?”. Call them manners, group norms or communications skills, we all interact in different ways with others and have different expectations around how we will engage with one another. What I find annoying, offensive or off-side, might just be your style.

Operating values are an important tool for facilitators or anyone who brings people together to create group norms around how we will interact with each other. If we don’t work together to set some expectations, then we default to the lowest common denominator, which may not work for some people. And when I say, may not work, it could actually be much worse than that. Engagements should not traumatize or re-traumatize people, participants should not leave feeling like they have been treated poorly or experienced disrespect. So, how do we do this?

Whether in-person or virtually…

  1. Make Space: Take the time to set expectations of how we are going to be together.
  2. Build Common Ground: Facilitate dialogue so that everyone can contribute to developing operating values.
  3. Secure Agreement: Ask permission to adopt them as a group: “Does this list work for everyone? Ok, so for today let’s be sure to keep these front and centre in how we work together.”

Some of the operating values that I have turned to since COVID-19 (with all my meetings now online) have included:

  • We will assume we are all doing the best we can
  • We will give each other the benefit of the doubt
  • We will show up (on camera or not, in chat or not, speaking or not) as we are able
  • We will balance the space we take and the space we make for others

When you leave the “how we will work together” piece of a meeting or engagement to chance, you are limiting your ability to facilitate productive and respectful dialogue and turning that over to the person in the meeting who is the loudest, most opinionated, or most in conflict with other participants. Good engagements don’t just happen. They are planned.

I have a fun update: Delaney is now on Instagram! We will be sharing tips like this post over there as well, so if you are so inclined, please give us a follow.