Workplace Order Rules Part 2

Blaine Collins of our Ho‘ohana Community asked me a question in the comments, and I started to answer him there in comment land as well, but my response got rather long and I decided to do it here. Coincidentally, the Rules of Engagement have come up offline and “on the job” quite often since I first posted about them.

Blaine’s comment on my Workplace Order Rules post:

Great list Rosa.  I noticed you added the 10th rule – Keep it Real – that is not present in the long version.  That phrase potentially has a different meaning to each individual.  To me, I think that means to be honest with others and to avoid playing mind games – that sort of thing.  Would you share your thoughts about what it means to you to ‘keep it real’ and maybe give an example of how teams sometimes drift from this rule?

Before I jump to my answer for Blaine, so you need not click away again, this was the original long version of the Rules of Engagement I’d posted on

Rules of Engagement

1. Engage. Participate. Be fully present. No auto-pilot.

2. Meetings and multiple appointments are a fact of work-life; the least we can do is be on time so they can start on time and our peers are not kept waiting.

3. Respect the attention of your peers. Come prepared means come prepared.

4. Always have a pen and paper for note-taking. First, you respect others who are giving you information by acknowledging it, and secondly you’re expected to capture it, and follow-up; forgetting is not an option.

5. Whatever your role is, you’re expected to be the expert in that role. Own it, and don’t be shy about it. Stake your claim proudly. (This was part of the no bench-warmers philosophy.)

6. When you say you’ll follow-up on something, do. If it’s not going to happen, say so. People trip when you sweep stuff under the rug.

7. Own up to your mistakes and be okay with them. Making mistakes is perfectly fine for we all make them. However huffing and puffing about them with excuses and justifications is not fine. Get over it (we already did) and just correct it.

8. Communicate. We have found that relying on mind-reading doesn’t work that well for us.

9. Trust and be trust-worthy. Much easier when Rules 1 – 8 are honored and we all keep it real.

Good catch Blaine
. As you can see above, originally, the “keep it real” phrase was part of number 9 in the long version. In the short version it morphed into a line on its own, because we weren’t comfortable with the word “when” and felt it should be a rule all on its own too. The Rules of Engagement were a work in progress and always up for discussion.

For us, “keep it real” meant we always told the truth, no matter how difficult it was to say it or hear it. We felt that no matter how ugly it could be, the truth was so much easier to deal with than lies or lies of omission (knowingly withholding pertinent information). Business comes fully loaded as it is, and having to sort through un-truths and half-truths just adds more baggage, confusion, and unnecessary complexity – not to mention more work!

On when teams can drift from this rule:

If we stick to my definition for a moment, I’ve mentioned the biggie above: They drift when they compromise on the truth, and lies of omission can be a tricky loophole if allowed to be one.

However the point of the Rules of Engagement is that they do beg the discussion AT THE FRONT END of team project work, as to how that project (or the entire working environment in the grander scheme of things) will proceed because of the assumptions that can rightfully be made about each participant’s level of engagement. “Keep it real” is a good example of verbiage that is first discussed as to “what does this mean to us?” that when fully understood (i.e. brought into alignment with the team values) can become a mobilizing and motivational mantra for their productivity.

“Keep it real” could also mean the examples you’ve given (“be honest with others and to avoid playing mind games – that sort of thing”). It could mean we want long term solutions and not short term fixes and band-aids. The team takes ownership individually, and for determining the Rules of Engagement to begin with. I had helped another leadership team in a brainstorm of the Rules of Engagement they wanted to adopt, and they came up with a list of 18 initially. Last time I checked with them they had 21.

Another thought on “drifting:” Generally speaking, I find that the smaller the number of rules, the better ownership you get of all of them — not just the ones people agree with most or can remember. However for the group I just mentioned, they feel their 21 rules are working for them in their work culture, and that’s what counts.


  1. says

    How good (and gracious) a Receiver are you?

    Is good and gracious receiving highly regarded, and thoughtfully and deliberately promoted and fostered in your organizational culture? How do you do it? Some back-story to where I’m coming from on this: Our Sunday Mālama feature for Managing with Aloha