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How to Cultivate a Thriving Team by Establishing Team Norms

For new teams or teams who don’t have “norms” established yet.


Work colleagues with hands together in a huddle

What are they? Team norms are agreed-upon guidelines or expectations the team members establish when it comes to meeting etiquette, communication, and generally, how to behave around each other.


Why? Team norms can clear up any negative assumptions, stories, or “shoulds” we put on our team members that open the door to conflict. For example, “Kevin should not be on his computer during this meeting. Doesn’t he care about what our team is talking about?”


Equally helpful, team norms can demystify the “shoulds” we put on ourselves when working with our team members which can lead to misunderstandings or even resentment towards our fellow peers! For example, “I’m spending way too much time on this agenda for next week’s weekly meeting but I know the team will want all the specifics, so I really have to get this done. I wish I didn’t have to do this every week.”


Creating team norms has been found to minimize negative conflict and enhance decision-making. Most importantly, when a team creates norms that align with its mission, it can contribute to a culture that directs and supports its team members in their work toward the outcomes the team is driving for.


Work colleagues discussing in their work environment

Some examples of establishing team norms:


"We discuss the truth, even when it's hard."

"We bring silliness and seriousness."

"No computers or cell phones during meetings."

"Failing with a growth mindset is growth."

"We listen to understand."

"We do not gossip but directly address perceived issues."


 

There’s more than one way to create team norms, but here's a process to get you started:


1. Set aside at least two hours for the conversation. If incorporating it into an offsite, place this exercise at the beginning. You want the team to be energized to lean into their creative thinking and have the capacity to process and discuss information intently.


2. Leaders, kick off the session by being clear about why it’s important for you and the team. This is your opportunity to lead the team. How you show up during this conversation will impact how your team shows up for the conversation. Don’t be afraid to participate in the discussion, give ideas, and share your experiences too. You are a part of the team, too!


3. It might be helpful to hire a facilitator to facilitate discussion and challenge ideas. Their neutral point of view can point to things the team might not notice. They can also act as a moderator to ensure all opinions are heard and keep the discussion on track and moving forward.


4. Ask the team to think of the best team they were a part of and write down what made that team great. This doesn’t just have to be in a work setting, it can be a sports team, volunteer committee, worship team, non-profit board, etc. Ask them to focus on the behaviors the team embodied. Rather than stick to one word, have them elaborate. For example, if they say “honesty,” what was it about honesty that the team did? “We discussed the truth, even when it was hard.”


5. Extract and categorize all the behaviors the team identified. Have team members select 1-3 of the behaviors they isolated and put them on individual post-it notes. Then, have everyone stick their post-its to a wall and start categorizing the behaviors.


6. Once categorized, ask the team to consolidate all the ideas in each category into one main behavioral statement they think is most important for the team to emulate practically. This is going to be a whole team effort! Encourage all team members to participate in this discussion. Remember, these are going to be YOUR norms. Be active, curious, and passionate. Take ownership of your part of the team.


7. Narrow the behaviors down to about 3-6 statements that will end up being your team's norms. To do this, have each team member vote for the three most important behavioral statements identified and take the 3-6 norms that get a majority vote.


8. Now that your team norms are identified, the team will determine how they will stay accountable to them, how to address violations, how to acknowledge successes, and how they will come alive as they work together (in meetings, 1-1’s, etc.). One suggestion of ours would be to nominate a team member to champion the norms each month during team meetings (this should be a rotating role). This person reminds the team of the norms, calls out wins, and addresses violations seen during the meeting.


9. Type out the norms and ask team members to display them somewhere they will see them every day.


10. As new team members join, they should be briefed on the team norms.


11. Team norms may also shift as the team members come and go, or the team’s goals shift. It’s good to revisit this conversation every 6-12 months.


 

One final benefit the team may see after these sessions:

Because the whole team is involved in determining a winning direction, it inspires deeper trust and connections that will improve the way the team works together. It’s now a reference point they can go back to, to both keep each other accountable and to know how well they all work together to

reach a decision.


 

If you’re interested in establishing team norms with your team and would like a facilitator to guide the session, we’d love to help. Or, if you’d like to talk about other opportunities to develop your team, contact us here and we’ll find a time to discuss your team’s specific needs.



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