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Team Washing Instructions: How to Find Common Ground for Improved Team Collaboration

Writing your team washing instructions helps identify unique ways of working and common ground for collaboration.

By Gustavo Razzetti

April 27, 2023

A tool to reconcile personal preferences with the needs of the team

In today's fast-paced work environment, collaboration and communication are key components of any successful team. However, working together can be challenging, especially when team members have different communication and collaboration styles.

To ensure your team can work together effectively, start by understanding how each member wants to communicate, interact, and collaborate. Most importantly, you need to reconcile personal preferences with team expectations.

In this article, I will discuss how to find common ground in team collaboration using the Team Washing Instruction – a tool that integrates personal preferences with the team's needs.

The Benefits – and Challenges – of Having a Team User Manual

A team user manual, also known as a "user guide" or "ReadME," is a document that outlines how team members prefer to work together. It’s an effective tool for improving team communication and collaboration but it also presents potential challenges.

In a previous post, I introduced the Personal Washing Instructions Canvas – a visual tool I use to help my clients’ teams improve collaboration. It leverages the metaphor of laundry labels by reminding us that each team member, just like our most precious clothes, needs special care.

Hundreds of global teams have adopted it to codify how each team member likes to work and communicate, minimizing misunderstandings and friction.

Key benefits of codifying team washing instructions:

  1. Improved Communication: Team members can avoid misunderstandings and friction by sharing their communication styles and preferences.
  2. Increased Collaboration: Understanding your team's ‘washing instructions’ can help to create a more productive and open work environment.
  3. Increased Psychological Safety: By creating a culture of openness and understanding, people feel encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, be more authentic, and speak up without fear of judgment.
  4. Enhanced Productivity: When team members know how to work together and communicate effectively, it can increase productivity and reduce the time spent on meetings or unnecessary tasks.
  5. Reduced Conflict: By outlining expectations and preferences in advance, team members can reduce potential conflicts and misunderstandings.

However, codifying personal preferences is just one part of the process. What works for one person may not work for the team. The challenge lies in finding common ground: integrating personal preferences with the team's needs.

There’s a risk that team members may focus too much on what they like, prioritizing personal needs over the team's needs. Some team members adopt an overly rigid approach, expecting everyone to conform to their preferences. It could also encourage selfish behaviors or individualism.

So, how can your team find common ground, reconciling personal preferences with collective good?

Finding Common Ground for Team Collaboration

Common ground refers to a shared understanding or agreement between two or more parties. Unlike compromising, where we find the lowest common denominator acceptable to everyone, common ground requires active listening, open communication, and hard work.

Finding common ground is about uncovering areas of agreement toward a shared goal. It requires reconciling individual preferences with team needs. Common ground allows team members to be more productive, efficient, and effective in achieving their goals.

Take, for example, the paradox of hybrid teams. On the one hand, people want flexibility to choose where and when they work. However, to perform well together, the team must define collaboration time – a moment when every team member is available for potential meetings, calls, or decision-making discussions.

Common ground helps to establish clear expectations and guidelines for working together. It starts with team members sharing their personal preferences and expectations, then writing their washing instructions. But the process shouldn’t end there.

The team must realize that what works for one team member may not work for everyone. That’s why finding common ground is crucial. To accomplish this second step, I use the Team Washing Instruction Canvas – a tool that reconciles individual preferences with collective needs.

The Team Washing Instructions Canvas is the team version. It has four sections: communication protocol, working together, driving alignment, and async and synchronous collaboration. Each has a set of questions to facilitate productive conversations among team members.

First, team members complete their personal washing instructions (pre-work). Second, at the beginning of the workshop, each person shares 2-3 key themes they want others to know about them. Third, the team works on the Team Washing Instructions Canvas together.

I often divide the team into two groups and have each work on two of the four sections. Then, each team shares their results, they get feedback from the other group, and all washing instructions are consolidated in one canvas.

Let’s review the structure of the canvas and how to complete it.

Team Washing Instructions Canvas – How to Use It

As mentioned above, the Team Washing Instructions Canvas has four sections. Let’s review each and how to complete them.

Communication Protocol

How do we want to communicate with each other (tone/style)?

Having a shared tone and communication style establish a sense of consistency and trust among team members. It creates a shared language and improves clarity.

For example, assuming positive intent when there’s a misunderstanding could help the team reduce friction and conflict.

Which communication medium do we use for what and when?

It is helpful to have a common approach to communication, aligning the team on when to use each medium. Use the following guidelines as a starting point:

  • Email is best for formal, detailed messages that require documentation or need to be referred to in the future. It's also a good choice for teams that operate in multiple time zones.  
  • Text message is best for quick, informal conversations that don't require much detail, as well as urgent or time-sensitive messages that require a quick response.
  • Slack messages are best for team communication and collaboration, mainly when working on a project or task. It helps discuss ideas and get real-time feedback.
  • Phone calls are best for urgent or complex issues requiring a personal touch. When things get out of hand, there’s a misunderstanding, or email threads become too long, have a phone call.

What’s the expected response time per medium?

In most teams, people are expected to respond to communications immediately. Little effort is made to protect one's ability to focus and unclear expectations create unnecessary tensions.

Align your team on the expected response frequency per medium. What's an acceptable response time for an email? Or for Slack messages? What happens if you receive emails during weekends or too early in the morning? Should people actually contact others during weekends?

Response time and frequency depends on the type of work and the role each member plays – customer service, for example, needs to be more responsive than other departments.

How do we address feedback as a team?

Define formal and informal practices for providing feedback to each other. Which feedback should be managed individually or collectively? What are the tools, processes, and cadence for providing feedback? Check out his article for tips on giving feedback to your team as one.

For example, adopting an open feedback approach can help overcome the many risks of anonymous feedback.

Working Together

How do we nurture strong relationships and take care of each other?

Strong interpersonal relationships are critical for team success. Establishing meaningful bonds with our colleagues directly increases trust, connection, and collaboration.

Define the practices and ways your team will maintain and strengthen interpersonal relationships.

How do we facilitate courageous conversations?

Having difficult conversations can be challenging. However, effective teams know that avoiding sensitive topics will make things worse.

How does the team promote psychological safety? How does the team encourage vulnerability, active listening, and reacting without judging others? What are the ground rules for having courageous conversations?

What’s our schedule? Flexible time versus collaboration time.

Discuss what flexibility means to your team. Can people work from anywhere? Can team members choose their own work schedules based on their particular lifestyles? If so, what’s the agreed collaboration time?

Define when everyone is available in case the team needs to get together or have a real-time conversation.

What are the norms for successful collaboration?

Collaboration should be frictionless and smooth. Establishing clear criteria will avoid unnecessary headaches.

Expecting people to have ownership, be open-minded and receptive to new ideas, and support each other during tough situations are some norms for successful collaboration.

Driving Alignment

What do we want to accomplish together?

Create a shared sense of purpose and direction by defining what the team wants to accomplish together.

Craft a compelling team purpose that describes who the team serves, how, and the impact it provides. The team purpose should be inspiring, ambitious, and achievable.

What does success look like?

Defining what success looks like is crucial in creating a shared vision for a team. Establish clear goals, identify key performance indicators (KPIs), define success metrics, assign clear responsibilities, and monitor progress.

This will help the team stay focused and have a shared vision of what they need to achieve.

What is non-negotiable?

Establish fundamental principles and expectations for your team. For some teams, high quality and design are non-negotiables; for others, speed and quick execution are vital.

When everyone on the team understands and adheres to these principles, it leads to improved collaboration and overall team performance.

How do we make decisions as a team?

Clarify and codify how authority is distributed, as well as who’s supposed to make which decisions and how.

Categorize the types of decisions your team makes – which will be made individually and which should be made collectively? Clarify decision-making roles, criteria to use, and how everyone will be kept in the loop.

Click to download your copy of the Washing Instructions Canvas

Async and Sync Collaboration

How do we prioritize asynchronous work over real-time meetings?

Many teams continue to operate under the assumption that collaboration needs to happen in real-time. Asynchronous collaboration provides a more reflective and calmer environment, ensuring people can do deep work and provide more effective input.

Defaulting to asynchronous tools, making meetings a last resort, blocking time for deep work, and making meeting participation optional are quick ways to default to asynchronous communication.

For more examples and tips, check out this article.

How do we manage documentation and keep people informed?

Documentation is the foundation of successful remote teams, building more robust, informed, trusting, and connected collaboration. When you're working remotely, you don't have the luxury of visiting someone's desk to ask a question or joining in a conversation.

Documentation provides clarity and consistency, creating a single source of truth. Rather than interrupting your colleagues for information, you can go directly to the single source of truth.

What’s our meeting rhythm?

Define the types of meetings, duration, frequency, and who should participate.

For example, Zappos teams have three types of meetings. Tactical (weekly) meetings to address and solve day-to-day operational issues. Strategy (monthly) meetings are for long-term planning and setting the overall direction for the team. Governance (quarterly) meetings are for maintaining the governance process, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and amending governance documents.

What’s our meeting etiquette?

Improving meeting facilitation can help your team have more efficient, productive, and engaging meetings.

Consider the following practices for codifying your team meeting etiquette: start and end on time, set clear expectations, stick to the agenda, send pre-work to save time, ban multitasking, practice turn-taking, and document agreements.

Team Washing Instructions – Final Considerations

Effective collaboration doesn't happen by chance but by design. Writing your team washing instructions helps identify unique ways of working and common ground for collaboration.

Writing individual washing instructions shouldn’t promote entitlement or selfish behaviors. People need to share how they want to be treated but also be open to adapting their styles to collaborate better with others. That's why finding common ground is vital.

Completing the Team Washing Instructions has many benefits. By intentionally codifying expectations and preferences, you can minimize misunderstanding and friction. Also, successful teams integrate personal preferences with what’s good for the team.

Integrating personal preferences with what's good for the team is not always easy. Reach out if you need our help to facilitate your team's washing instructions.

Attribution and Copyright

The Team Washing Instruction Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (Copyright © 2019- 2024 by Gustavo Razzetti and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You can use it for free but need to follow the following:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit (author name: Gustavo Razzetti, link to the original canvas:, and provide a link to the license) You cannot translate, modify the canvas, or remove the branding without written permission by the author or a representative from Fearless Culture.

Artwork by Fausto Razzetti

Article by Gustavo Razzetti, CEO of Fearless Culture

Gustavo facilitates courageous conversations that drive culture transformation. He is a sought-after speaker, culture consultant, and best-selling author of the book Remote, Not Distant.

Razzetti is also the creator of the Culture Design Canvas – a visual and practical method for intentionally designing workplace culture. His insights were featured in Psychology Today, Forbes, The Economist, and more.

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