written by Nathan Vanderpool

Example: 🌳 Honesty

You're a good person, and your team is full of good people. The work you do is important, and needs to be guided by your core values. So you have a team meeting and decide that honesty is essential to everyone involved. That's a clear team value right? Job done. You picked a word!

Oxford English Dictionary

Honesty, n. the quality of being honest.

🙄 Ok, how about…

Honest, adj.


Even in the dictionary, honesty has multiple meanings. And in practice, personal approaches to being honest can look quite different. Using Human Systems methods, I tracked what kinds of honesty are important to the members of my team (as opposed to dictionary definitions):

What way of being honest is important to you?

Anne: speaking about what's up like it's no big deal

Serge: owning your mistakes and shortcomings

Joe: meeting a person rather than a task, plan, or desire

Nathan: examining my emotional life and inner landscape

Let's call that...

pedestrian straight-talk

**yes, I stole the cookie**

      **facing people**

    **feelings research**

Clearly, people on my team could have used different words. They might have gone with authenticity, connection, integrity, openness, surrender, sobriety, spontaneity, vulnerability. But they might not have all agreed on any one of these other words as a "core team value".

And the definition problem runs even deeper. Honesty is a noun. But what about being honest (an adverb)? What phrase—in Human Systems terms, what 🌳 **personal value—**captures the way you direct your attention when you're approaching life that way? Here, the true diversity of my team's values comes into focus:


If you rely on the dictionary definition of honesty, you miss what your team actually cares about. You might design an org structure that is:

but makes no room for "facing people". You could plan a meeting that is:

but doesn't facilitate "pedestrian straight-talk". It's easy to see how your team's core value of honesty can become an empty word.

The diversity of 🌳 personal values is one of the strongest features of your team. And not being clear about what really matters to your team is one of your biggest potential weaknesses. When personal values are suppressed, people become frustrated, hopeless, and disengaged. But if everyone's contribution feels like an expression of their true selves, the work you do together will feel meaningful, and your collective passion and creativity will be unleashed.