Teams need norms. Some teams call them "ground rules" or "operating principals". It’s no surprise that when MIT and Google studied team effectiveness, they found that having team norms was essential. I used to underestimate the process of creating team norms and see them as a “check the box” moment with team facilitation. After working with a lot of teams, especially over time, I learned how important they are and I use a more rigorous process.
Why are team ground rules so important?
Really great teams are often diverse. Members bring different knowledge, skills, backgrounds, experiences and personalities. The more diverse the team, the more profound the differences in expectations for what productive interactions look like. If you have read my other posts on the importance of psychological safety to team effectiveness, you will understand that the more safe people feel to speak up, be authentic and share their best, the more effective the team will be. And of course the reverse is true – if people feel like their way of being, communicating or interacting is discounted or dismissed, they will be less likely to speak up or contribute in other ways
Creating team ground rules or norms is a way of creating an “interaction playbook” of how you want team members to show up, be present, communicate (listening and speaking), make decisions, appreciate and follow through. The goal is to create a set of behavioral norms all members agree to honor and uphold. If you want to access the optimal contribution, you want everyone to feel like their experiences, insights and perspectives matter (even if you don't agree with them). This process of creating team norms allows everyone to create a space where they feel comfortable and safe to contribute, challenge others and most importantly, perform.
Here are a few pointers for creating effective team ground rules/norms:
The hardest part is for team members to keep the norms alive and call each other on behaviors that run counter to those to which they have agreed. In the end, creating a space where all can contribute their best work is more than worth it.
This is the second of a series on successful teams. As a higher level of trust on a team supports more effective interactions (See my April post), shared purpose strengthens team cohesion and collaboration. When referring to the term “shared purpose”, I am not talking about a lofty vision. I am referring to the practical reason that binds all the endeavors and activities of the team members. The shared purpose describes what everyone on the team is trying to accomplish – the overarching, collective goal of all of the work they do. Unlike a team charter, that defines the goals and boundaries (the “contract”) under which a project team will work, the shared purpose applies to all types of teams. The clearer everyone is on what they have in common, the more likely they are to work across boundaries and acknowledge interdependencies.
So often when I am working with a team who reports to senior executive, they act as separate entities with completely different goals. In many ways this is understandable. They have different functions, different expertise and roles in the organization. On a daily basis, their work may feel very different from that of their peers on the same team. However, when I get to know them and their work, their areas of interdependence become much clearer. And if they don’t acknowledge their interdependencies, they are often ignoring the collaborative efforts that would make them more efficient, effective and successful. Identifying and discussing shared purpose allows teams to stand above their inherent differences, disciplines and expertise and reminds them of their collective reason for existing.
How can you spot a lack of shared purpose on a team? There are some clear signs that a team is not aware of or leveraging their shared purpose:
In my experience working with hundreds of teams, when teams are clear on their shared purpose, their energy is focused on achievement vs. political jockeying or internal competition. Creating shared purpose on a team requires reflection, preparation and time to stand above the day-to-day activity to discuss and agree. If done right, it is guaranteed to make your team more collaborative and successful.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.
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