Teams: The Essence of Norms
Taking the time to establish and update team norms, or ground rules as they are often called is essential to team success. Norms provide the rules or behaviors for how the team wants to work together.
Let’s assume you have a challenging, clear and approved charter, and everyone is on the same page with the goals. What do you need norms for? Doesn’t everyone know how to act? We are all adults, for goodness sake! Let’s just get to work! I have heard these questions and comments or sensed them in many a team launch. I have also hurried through the process, treated it like an “exercise”, and watched colleagues undermine the importance of rigorous norms, all to our collective peril.
In the February 25, 2016 New York Times article written by Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, one of the findings was the importance that group norms have on team success. I was happy to read this. It is always fun when the research and data back up what I experience as a practitioner working with teams everyday. Norms are essential for team success.
When I set up a team launch I have the team members reflect in advance of the meeting. I ask them to list specific behaviors they need from colleagues to be productive and successful. Their list should include behaviors that will allow them to feel safe disagreeing with team members or the team leader, how to create maximum inclusion (so you can get the best from everyone in the room) and how to avoid the dreaded and inefficient “meeting after the meeting”. Once in the meeting, we take our time to discuss, construct and combine the collective norms for the team. I take more time with it than I used to, and clients tell me that when they use them consistently, norms save time in the long run.
We all come to work with our experience, competence, personalities and habits. I think it is rare that someone on a team wants to disrupt team cohesion or success. From what I have seen, at times they can’t help themselves. They do what they do. In our formative years we all learn and practice to perfection a set of “rules”. None of this is necessarily bad. When we join a team, we need something that transforms and re-forms some of our work and interaction habits. We need to set aside or even disrupt what is most comfortable and familiar for us to serve the mission of the team. For a time, we need to create a space where everyone can contribute his or her best and most creative ideas. That is why we have teams and teams (we now know for sure) perform better with norms.
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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.