Team norms and group work

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So eager are people to start doing things they sometimes overlook an essential aspect of collaborating—building relationships with coworkers that foster not just a successful business outcome, but also a learning culture and a happy work experience. Investing in relationships is invariably cheaper and less time-consuming than trying to recover from the divisiveness and conflict that may result from weak or arms-length relationships. Many factors contribute to successful teams but one practice has consistently helped my clients and that's to have agreed norms. 

Norms are a set of basic agreements created by a group that define expected behaviours when collaborating. Norms help people behave transparently and consistently in a group so that everyone can be clear about each other's intentions. Each person has opportunity to express what's important to them and to learn what's important to their coworkers. With keen facilitation norms provide structure for discussing issues and disagreements, helping to ease tensions, stop frustrations festering, and prevent destructive situations. Such an environment fosters healthy debate and clarity of purpose, and builds trust, which in turn increases collective ownership and performance.

I like to help groups agree their norms by consent when they come together for the first time. Getting to codesign their norms gives people a sense of ownership and a consent decision is a stronger decision that begins to bind the group. It’s a good idea to keep norms big and visible, to serve as reminders. I encourage people to post them around their workspace. 

As a leader and facilitator I've used the following norms as a starter for many years. Why not give them a go? I'd be keen to hear how they work for you. 

1. Speak your mind respectfully

You may lose an argument but you never lose your voice so say what you think. Your ideas count as much as anyones.

2. One conversation at a time. One speaker at a time

People can't follow multiple conversations nor understand the details when others are talking over one another. At any time there should only be one person speaking.

3. Listen thoughtfully to others

You're not listening when you're thinking about what you're going to say next. Empathise. Try hard to understand the other points of view. Identify the facts, experiences and assumptions they rest on. Ask others to explain their reasoning. Remember, there are 3 points of view: yours, mine, and the right one.

4. Don't monopolise the discussion

Don't speak for more than a minute or so at a time. Give others a chance. And dig for the things that matter.

5. Don't let the discussion get away from you

If you don't understand where the discussion is going, say so. Ask for examples until you do understand. Try to tie what's being said with your own experience and with what you've heard and read. Don't hesitate to ask questions.

6. Indulge in friendly disagreement

When you find yourself on the other side of the fence, say so and say why. Remember, the goal is shared and good humour goes a long way. Air your disagreements during the discussion rather than carrying them outside.

7. Honour time limits

Quite simply respect the value of peoples time. Be punctual. Be prepared. Be succinct.

8. Phones and tablets off

Be fully present. Ask permission from the group if you're expecting urgent or important communication.

Making norms work

Norms help create high-performing teams that can achieve extraordinary results. But. Consciously agreeing norms is just the first step. A group has to live up to them. And that means being brave enough to call each other out on behaviours that go against the group's norms. A group must devise a simple system for mutual accountability. Find a fun way to hold each other accountable and agree up front what the group will do if there’s no improvement.