Align Teams on Values with the CV-1 Exercise

The individuals on most teams usually have only one thing in common: they work for the same employer.

When you work with teams, they often need something more, “some thing,” to help them genuinely cohere. “Core values” is that thing. An explicit and short list of core-values that are explicitly agreed-upon can and will accelerate team-learning, by creating an environment that actually encourages it to happen.  It is essential that everyone on the team has a hand in creating this core-values list. That’s all I’m telling you about it for now, except for this one last thing: if you do not focus your teams on core-values, nothing truly great is going to happen right away.

After 10++ years of coaching teams and studying core values and culture, I’ve boiled it down to the essentials. I’ve created an activity I call “CV-1” or the “Core Values #1” exercise and activity. With this very fast 90-minute exercise, any team you coach can and will know, and understand, the actual values they actually share.

Here is how it goes:

Core Values #1 Exercise: “CV-1”

Setup and Materials: someone who is not a team member (like a Coach) facilitates this for the team. You want privacy for this exercise. You’ll also ideally want these materials and this setup:


  1. A big white board the whole team can stand in front of. Use flip charts on tripods if you must.
  2. Flip chart pad. The team will be making art on some of the sheets at the end of the exercise.
  3. Juicy dry-erase markers in several colors. Make sure they are juicy. Dry markers are the sign of a mediocre coach and facilitator.
  4. Optional: Sharpies in various colors for Step #8 (see below.)


  1. Get everyone in one place without distractions for 90 minutes. Team members only. Find and maintain privacy.
  2. Explain what core values are, and why they care.
  3. Make it clear you are facilitating and not participating. If you are a team member, you are prohibited from facilitating this. This is for them, not you.


  1. Have them stand up and stand in front of a blank white board, as individuals, shoulder to shoulder. Make markers available.
  2. Ask them to write down in one word the things that truly PISS THEM OFF. Really irritating things. Everyone knows what irritates them. Ask them to write those things down as one or two words. These are the things in life that the individual DISLIKES when they see it or experience it. Examples include “pushy people,” “blowhards,” “bureaucracy,” “laziness,”  “repetitive work,” etc. There are no right or wrong things to put down here. In all cases, instruct them to write down things that truly IRRITATE them. Make sure they write one word per line, and make a list in one big stacked column of words, one column of words (on the white board) per person. Make sure there is white space on one side or the other of each item in this list.
  3. When they are done, ask them to write THE OPPOSITE of each item, next to each item. This is what they actually value as an individual.
  4. Notice and eliminate duplicates, so only one of each item remains on the board.
  5. Now give everyone 10 votes (or whatever number of votes can reveal what’s what.) Have them look at everyone else’s list and apply their votes, 1 vote per item.  They are voting on what values they hold in common. Use initials or just “tick marks” to vote for the items that they are most willing to most strongly hold as a value in this group. The items with the most votes are the items held in common as values. As “value-able.”
  6. Now harvest the top 4,5,6 or so. The items with the most votes. These are the TOP and common core values, shared by the group. Copy them to one clean spot on the white board. No more than 7 is a good idea. Ten is a lot and may be too many.
  7. Now invite them to write a single sentence that explains the value, using some of the words that were voted “up” but did not have enough votes make it into the final list. Words that were not voted are also OK. Have them just kind of self-manage this step. It might take awhile. You the facilitator can mostly stay out of it, unless they get stuck. Try to stay out of it. Hold your fire. Don’t try to speed them up, or otherwise manage them. Just supply the steps and rules. Then shut up.
  8. Now they have N core values and a brief sentence describing each. They are almost done. Have them render this list to 1, 2 or 3 flip-charts sheets. Try to get everyone to participate in the creation of the art. Tell them that these hand-drawn sheets are going up on the wall in a prominent place on the team-room wall and/or work area. Position them prominently on one of the walls in the space.

The CV-1 or Core Values #1 exercise is the fastest way I can think of to identify a team’s common, shared, “core values.” It goes really fast. I hope you give it a try.


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