Team values

These are the values that we live by at Marriage Pact.

Filed October 2020

When I first heard about them, I believed that “team values” were silly. It turns out I was dead wrong.

OK, to be fair, I was half wrong.

I was unimpressed because of how silly most "team values" are. I’d heard far too many values that were vague, un-actionable, and far too expected.

For example, I don’t believe that “trust” should be a team value—there’s no clear action associated with it and it's vague. Because it’s an unmeasurable goal, it’s easy to ignore—or worse, claim to succeed in without any accountability. Further, because most people are trustworthy, having generic values like these sets a low bar.

I believe well-designed team values should be (1) actionable, (2) non-obvious, and (3) hard. That’s what makes values worth elevating, writing down, repeating, judging for, and striving for. The values should set a high bar, not a low bar.

Here are our core values at a glance:

  1. Ask great questions
  2. Disagree
  3. Focus on why, not what
  4. Dream big
  5. Take initiative
  6. Bring things up early and often

1.    Ask great questions

Discovering the best answer is a collaborative process that requires active participation from listner as much as speaker. Do your utmost to learn, not look smart. Be curious, question assumptions, and then use those tensions to ask incisive questions.

Seek out others’ questions so you can improve the quality of your work. Freely admit when you don’t understand or don’t have the answer. Together, we’ll be our most creative and effective.

  • Great ideas often don’t come from one eureka moment; each great outcome is the result of many inputs and iterative, collaborative idea improvement.
  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

2.    Disagree

Respectfully disagree with your teammates. Challenge decisions or ideas when you disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable. Do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. We openly share questions and critical opinions—and, in turn, we celebrate and respect each other for doing so, because it isn’t always easy.

  • It can be hard to disagree. So support people when they do! Celebrate their courage, especially when they’re disagreeing with you.
  • Argue as if you are right; listen as if you are wrong.
  • Once a decision is made as a team, commit 100% even if you disagreed prior.

3.    Focus on why, not what

Ultimately, every solution we design should be derived and should be re-derivable from a defensible thought process. Nothing at the Marriage Pact should go ahead simply because other people weren’t equipped with the context they needed to (1) poke holes in that idea or (2) dream up an alternative.

So, when communicating what you know or what you’re working on, don’t present it as gospel. Instead, concisely summarize the your thought process so everyone could realize the conclusion on their own. Don’t just give people the answer—show them how to untangle the problem.

  • Concisely summarizing the challenge and thought process is ~3x harder to do than just sharing your solution. That’s OK—it’s worth it, both for your audiences’ sake and for your own! Invest the time you need to communicate the full story, from problem to proposed solution.
  • If your team arrives at the same solution you found, we’re probably on the right track. If other people arrive at a different solution than you did, despite being handed your thought process & reasons, that’s a good signal learning is about to happen. Ask good questions to find out why y’all diverged.

4.    Dream big

Dreaming big is the most powerful tool you have for building something that captures your imagination. We want moonshot ideas. If you have one, share it. If you don’t have one yet, think of one. Think of another. Moonshot ideas are how we’ll reinvent ourselves to be better over time.

  • Don’t be afraid of crazy ideas, silly ideas, dumb ideas, or being wrong. There’s no shame in it. Write those crazy ideas down—they are the kernels at the center of our best products.

5.    Take initiative

Ideas are cheap. At Marriage Pact, what matters is execution. Proactively spot things that need doing, and do them. A sense of urgency is one of our biggest competitive advantages, so lean into it. Have a bias for action.

  • If something needs doing, do it.

6.    Bring things up early and often

This is the most common piece of advice offered in marriage counseling. Bring up problems so early, and when they’re so small, it almost seems silly to bring them up.

This stems from two realizations: (1) There is asymetric downside to going over vs. going under on the number of problems you bring up—bringing up too many things might cause some short term friction, but bringing up too few things causes long term suffering—and (2) It's nearly impossible to know what the exact right number of things is to bring up. Our conclusion: it's best to overshoot. Bring things into light; do not let problems fester and grow.

  • If you have the urge to share feedback or bring up a problem, do so! No matter how small.

How to use your values

Our values are how we determine whether someone is the right fit or not for our team. This applies to everyone, both new and old.

Some people don't like our values or decide our values are not theirs—this is perfect. Being on a team is a two-way street, and being candid and upfront about our values lets everyone decide for themselves whether or not they want to be on our team.

On the Marriage Pact team, we expect ability and excellence. We also expect empathy and all the other basic pillars of how you should treat others. Our values give us something clear, actionable, and challenging to aspire to every day.

Values also give you common ground for interactions with new team members. When you work with someone you don't know, your shared values give you common ground. They also help you trust each others' good intentions: when someone disagrees with you, for example, you can be confident they're doing so simply because that's the kind of thing we aspire to as a group.

If this sounds like how you like to work, let me know.