Team Empowerment – The Honor Code

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code-of-behavior-2-340x224We’ve all seen it before. Hurt feelings, belligerent behavior, blatant political posturing and ugly, non-productive imploding meetings. Once the hammer comes down from the leader, people withdraw and hold back for fear of consequences. Poorly managed meetings can be expensive, counter-productive and divisive. Indeed, important brain storming sessions can become more about storming than brain.

Hierarchies exist in the workplace and life in general, and to get the most from human talent and experience team members must be “set free” to fully express their ideas without the threat of repercussions.

Most companies develop Core Values that supposedly spell out the how employees are to relate to the each other, the company and the customer. However, an important subset of core values is the Code of Honor.

What’s a Code of Honor or Conduct?

  1. It is a hand-full of basic ‘rules’ that define “what it takes” to be part of the team – the behaviors we expect.  Every organization has some kind of ‘code’ – even if it is not written down anywhere or acknowledged.  These ‘rules’ are the basic understandings that we have about what it takes to be ‘part of your organization.’
  2. A Code of Honor / Conduct is most effective when it is in a written form that is carefully designed to support the organizations mission, vision and overall desired culture.
  3. Your ‘Code’ outlines the rules that are a condition for membership in your team that sets expectations for behavior and provides the structure to enforce the Code so that it empowers everyone to optimal performance.
  4. A well-designed code is the key to high-performance organizations through engaging high-performing teams.  A common trait in the best organizations is the existence of a carefully articulated and maintained ‘Code’.  Toyota and Disney are good examples of the concept.  They depend on a team-based approach to excellence and recognize they can only excel if all their people are fully engaged and ‘own’ the mission and vision of the organization on a personal basis.
  5. Your Code directly supports achieving the mission and vision of your organization.  A correctly designed Code of Honor is a powerful force to make sure your people’s behaviors are fully aligned with your goals and objectives.
  6. The process of developing a code is part of the team building process

As we work through the code development process answers these questions:

    1. Why do even need a Code?
    2. What behaviors support us?
    3. What behaviors don’t support us?
    4. What are the right ‘balanced’ rules that we need?
    5. How do we communicate this Code?
    6. How do we enforce the code?
    7. How do we validate the code is effective?
    8. How do we maintain the code over time? 

Why do even need a Code?

In today’s competitive environment it is important to leverage every asset at our disposal.  I make the argument that 80% of your long term success depends on people and our ability to train, motivate and direct.  A solid code that is embraced and followed can be a powerful force to drive ever-improving organizational performance.

What behaviors support us?

After you have your team and have reviewed and agree on the overall objectives of the organization’s mission and vision, do a round of brainstorming on the types of behavior that support your mission.

Here are some of the ones I hear a lot:

  • Only make commitments you are willing and able to keep.
  • Problems are first addressed with the person who can do something about it.
  • We treat each other with respect; communications between people will be honest and open without gossip, or placing blame.
  • Everyone has key measures and are accountable for them.

What behaviors don’t support us?

Some of the obvious ones might be:

  • Being unwilling to support team decisions.
  • Putting self-interests ahead of that for the customer, organizational and team interests.
  • Back-biting, gossip and destroying team communications.
  • Unwilling to be held accountable.

What are the right ‘balanced’ rules that we need?

The trick here is to not get into overkill.  A relatively short list is better than a long one.


  1. Hard to remember too many points
  2. Easier to enforce and reinforce each other to stay on track to ENFORCE the code if it is short and sweet.

Here’s a sample of what one of my clients did for their continuous improvement (CI) program for the team’s code:

  1. Make and dedicate time for CI – to tangibly show our support of all CI activities
  2. Identify, assign and schedule action items – treating CI tasks in a professional matter will insure better results and serve to ingrain CI as a necessary and vital tool at our company
  3. Follow through with urgency – treat all CI tasks with a sense of urgency and purpose.  We cannot afford to procrastinate.
  4. Measure and communicate results – we must provide metrics and feedback so that everyone knows how we are doing.

How do we communicate this Code?

Once the code has been finalized, it is written in contractual form, agreed to and signed by each team member. Anytime the code is violated it is the duty of any member to call it out. This will not only help reinforce the discipline but will also help identify any code elements that may need to be modified or abandoned altogether. 

How do we validate the code is effective?

The proof of effectiveness will be self-evident if the teams business gets done on time and on target with task goals. After a time, the code should help smooth out the flow of communications as well as create a strong working bond between team members.

How do we maintain the code over time?

If team members are making sure the code is being followed and speak out when there are excursions from the code, the code will take on a subconscious aspect. The team leader should re-inforce the benefits of the code when it fulfills its promises of facilitating performance. Also, the code must be flexible enough to incorporate needed changes.

Over my many years, I am convinced of the importance of developing and using a Code of Honor that we have developed The MetaOps Code of Honor Workshop. It is designed to:

  1. Establish the key aspects of your mission and vision that need to be supported by a strong Code.
  2. Understand the elements of an effective Code:
    1. Supports desired culture, vision, and performance
    2. Clear and unambiguous
    3. Easy to communicate
    4. Easy to follow
  1. Is effective
  2. How do we maintain the code over time?
  1. Work through the code development process answers these questions:
    1. Why do even need a Code?
    2. What behaviors support us?
    3. What behaviors don’t support us?
    4. What are the right ‘balanced’ rules that we need?
    5. How do we communicate this Code?
    6. How do we enforce the code?
    7. How do we validate the code is effective?
  1. Document a sensible plan to deploy successfully:
    1. Testing and finalizing your Code’s components.
    2. Communications planning.
    3. Integrating the code in organization manuals, performance appraisals and job descriptions.
    4. Practicing the code’s enforcement.
    5. Periodic review of Code effectiveness.
  2. Provide on-going coaching and support.
    1. Periodic coaching calls
    2. Documenting ‘trouble events’ and learning from them.
    3. Poly-morphing the code to adapt to changing conditions.

For more information about the MetaOps Code of Honor Workshop, contact:

Ron Crabtree [email protected]


Additional Reading

Corporate Core Values-A Discussion with Govidha Jayaraman

Measurable Traits of an Affective Persuader 


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