How policies and rules impact teams

I like what Mark Horstman has to say about setting standards for ourselves and our teams. In a recent post, he argues that corporate dress codes are an ineffective way to manage attire, and that teams, team leaders and managers are better suited to the task. I especially agree that teams are well served by having higher standards than the organization as a whole.

Dress codes don’t enforce or encourage appropriate attire.

Managers do.

Spend some time this week noticing your team’s attire, and give them each some feedback on it. (Different feedback to those who have different goals, perhaps). It’s okay – no, it’s GOOD – if maybe your team’s standard is a little higher than the organization’s. Your directs might complain a little…but they’ll like being part of your team if it shows AND it means something.

Dress codes are micro-managing. Dress codes deliver the message that managers do not trust employees to makes decisions for themselves about what to wear. They say more about the insecurities of the organization’s leaders than anything else, as do policies about facial hair or the length of toilet breaks – both of which I have been exposed to by companies before. Invariably, these policies are counter-productive because employees spend more time trying to push the limits of the rules and less time on the organization’s objectives.

wooden rulerWhen I was in grade school, mini-skirts were in fashion (I’m dating myself with this one). At the beginning of one year, the school issued a new policy that girl’s skirts could be no more than 4 inches above the knee. Guess what happened. Entire classes spent 10 or 15 minutes each morning while teachers measured the hem-length of female students. The highlight of each day for students became guessing who would get sent home to change.

After a few weeks, the policy was quietly abandoned as a total failure because it had little impact on skirt length and distracted from lessons. Policies about boy’s hair length and holey jeans met similar fates. What did not fade away, however, is the feeling that school administrators had little or no trust in their students to make choices for themselves.

When it comes to how people conduct the personal aspects of the lives – like what they wear, what they read or listen to, who the befriend – it is usually best to avoid blanket policies and to deal with problems if and when they arise. The more you can let team members know they are trusted to make personal and business decisions, the stronger the team will become.

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