Rules of Engagement: Guidelines for Effective Team Interaction

Adapted from “The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting Inward” (Greenleaf Book Group Press; Copyright (c) 2018).

In most organizations, people work in teams. But in too many teams, people feel disconnected and don’t bring their full potential to the table. How can we change this?

When you are traveling on the roadways, there are laws, signs, and proper etiquette that promote driving safely and effectively. Through those guidelines, we form a social contract for safety.

Our common experience is that people in relationships gravitate to safe ways of engaging with others. The same is true for our teams. We need to create a sense of safety and provide a safe way to openly express ourselves. To do this requires the establishment of guidelines that everyone can embrace and honor. These guidelines lay out specifically how we are going to connect with one another to honor confidential conversations, encourage open and honest dialogue, and commit to speaking individual truths.

Here are some of the guidelines we’ve developed:

1. I will respect confidentiality.

Whatever happens in a conversation or meeting stays with the participants, unless the owner(s) of what was shared explicitly consent to sharing. Every team needs to be able to invoke confidentiality when necessary. Sensitive issues can arise, whether they are personal, family or business related; tactical or strategic; financial; or involve Human Resources, and the team needs to be able to have an open and frank discussion without worrying about whether information will be leaked to other coworkers.

2. I will be present in the moment.

Right here, right now, participants commit to showing up with their full presence. Only you know how distracted you are—or can easily become. You have to make it a point to stay present and engaged.

3. I will stay when times get tough.

If the conversation goes to a vulnerable or difficult place, participants must agree not only to remain physically present, but also mentally and emotionally. This is when teams have to pull together to support one another through difficult times. This also applies to the times that there are struggles within the team or differences of opinion that can feel tough to find solutions for. As a team, you need to be strong enough to hold the discomfort and allow for discovery.

4. I will speak my truth.

Participants must take ownership for sharing stories from their essence— truths unique to them. This is actually all you have to offer your team. It is a commitment to bring your voice and show up.

5. I will ask for what I want.

Participants pledge to come from a sovereign place and ask for their big want (without expectation of always getting it exactly). You are responsible to make sure you have everything you need to be successful in your role. You are responsible to ask for those things that are important to you. Nobody is a mind reader. You may not get what you want, but you won’t know for certain if you don’t ask.

6. I will take care of myself.

Participants own their responsibility to mind their energy and adjust to their teammates accordingly. You are responsible for you. If something isn’t working for you, then you need to speak up and address it. If you need help or need to discuss a difficult issue with the group, it’s up to you to ask for time and get it on the agenda.

7. I will express and own my feelings.

Share your emotions in context and take responsibility for your feelings as belonging to you, without expecting others will feel the same. This is an intentional commitment to learn how to be more emotionally intelligent. Identifying what you are feeling in the moment and expressing that emotion is your commitment to your team in an ongoing effort to create more connective authentic relationships.

8. I will own my perspectives.

Your perspectives are your beliefs and opinions. They’re shaped by the way you view the world. Our perspectives reflect our experience during the conversation. Owning your perspective is part of speaking your truth. That said, it doesn’t mean your perspective is always right or true. It just means it’s true for you.

9. I will actively listen.

Bring all your senses to interactions and use them to receive data and emotion using your head and heart. Hear the silence between words. Observe gestures. Process and embrace all the energy. Active listening speaks to being engaged in the act of listening. For most of us, we absorb information by thinking in terms of problem solving. You should suspend this “listen to fix” mode initially, because that will take you into the process of developing ideas to help this person. When this happens, you are no longer listening or engaged with the person.

10. I will speak respectfully, without blaming, shaming, or fixing.

Team members show respect for each other when they claim responsibility for their parts, rather than blaming others. When an entire team lifts blame from the group, they create an environment where each member seeks to improve themselves rather than fix others. You want to have an open debate about issues and opportunities before the team, but you always need to be respectful of one another.

11. I will ask permission before offering feedback or advice.

Those of you who are professional fixers, remember that any unsolicited advice will be received as criticism! So if you find yourself saying, “What you need to do is…”or “Have you thought about trying…?” you’ve fallen into the advice-giving trap.

By asking someone before you give him or her feedback, you increase the feeling of safety, and the person to whom you’re speaking is more likely to receive your offer. Just simply say, “I have an idea for you, are you open to discussing it?” Or “I have some experience with that type of situation that I’d be happy to share. Is now a good time?”

12. I am willing to make mistakes.

Learn to fail or fail to learn is a framework for a growth (rather than fixed) mindset. Mistakes come with being human!

13. I am willing to laugh at myself.

We can’t take ourselves too seriously. Our work is serious. Business is serious. But don’t be wound so tight that you can’t have a good laugh along the way. The best team we know laughs a lot! Safety has allowed them to drop their defenses, which not only allows team members to speak more openly about sensitive issues, it allows them to embrace spontaneity and playfulness, joy and lightheartedness.

14. I will be on time and stay until the end.

Show respect for the others by all agreeing on a schedule for a meeting and then sticking to it. Be punctual! Everyone is super busy. Everyone’s time is valuable. Respect one another and respect yourself.

15. I will turn off all electronics.

Electronics are an epidemic for individuals and teams. Turn off all electronics or put them into airplane mode. Many teams we work with have a basket for phones so everyone can drop them in at the beginning of the meeting and pick them up on the way out. Choose connection with your teammates.

These 15 guidelines are designed for one thing: encouraging a sense of safety! So honor and embrace them both individually and collectively to create the safest environment for you and your team to express themselves.

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Adapted from “The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting INward” (Greenleaf Book Group Press) by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. For more information, visit:

Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester are the authors of “The Power of Vulnerability: How to Create a Team of Leaders by Shifting Inward” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018). As partners at Shift 180, they coach business leaders and their teams to unlock their full potential. To learn more, visit: