How to Craft an Effective Team Norm

 

As a team leader, I want my team to work together effectively. Having a set of team norms is one way to shape how team members interact and work together.

There are several advantages to having a set of intentionally crafted team norms. The best time to do this is when the team is new and malleable. While you will face some challenges in reshaping your team’s norms if it has been around for a while, the benefits are still worth the efforts.

If you are thinking of crafting a set of team norms, here are some tips that could help you.

 

How to craft an effective team norm?

Here are some areas for your consideration:

 

Whom should I involve?

A “norm” is only so if the team accepts it and behave accordingly. Therefore, you would not want to dictate the norms. However, having the entire team work on the norms right from the beginning would be messy and hard to manage; not a good place to start.

My suggestion is to:

 

  1. Task a small group of team members to draft an initial version. This could be members of your core team or a mix of core and non-core team members. This group would ideally have two or three people and not more.
  2. Once you’ve got the initial draft, you can then involve the entire team, hear their thoughts and suggestions, and make appropriate adjustments.
  3. As the team leader, you should still have the final say, though you’d want the team to agree on it.

 

What is the process?

Crafting a team norm is not a complicated process. You could do the following:

 

  1. Set clear expectations and boundaries. A team norm is not an all-encompassing rulebook for the team; it usually covers only the behavioural aspects of the team’s interactions. You would want to start with a clear expectation of what you’d like the team norm to accomplish for the team and a clear boundary of what’s included and what’s not. This would help guide the initial task group as they work on the draft version.
  2. Begin by including norms that already exist in your team; include only constructive ones. If your team is new, you might just include some good ones that you know of. The task group might need to do an initial survey among team members to figure out what currently exists.
  3. Add norms that help reinforce the team’s values. If your team desires to value collaboration, you might include norms that enhance collaboration. If your team values diversity, you might include norms that help create an environment that encourages diversity.
  4. Add items that address behaviours that you’d like to change. For example, if team members don’t give their full attention during meetings (perhaps they were distracted), you might include norms about putting away cell phones or computers during meetings. In general, you should have very few of this type of norms; you can bring about behavioural change more effectively through emphasizing values.
  5. Decide what items to exclude. Not all norms are critical to the team’s interaction. Including every conceivable item into the list would likely be counterproductive. Choose only those that are critical to the team’s success.

 

“A team norm is not a rulebook. It should somehow relate to your team’s values, and help your team work more effectively together.”

 

Tips for writing the norms.

A well-written team norm will help the team. As you craft the norms, keep the following in mind.

 

  1. Keep the length to within one page of an A4-sized paper, using normal-sized typeface. While we would probably store the document electronically, the paper size is still a good gauge of the length.
  2. Use bullet points, rather than lengthy paragraphs. You want the document to be easily readable.
  3. Use simple language and short sentences. Be concise and without ambiguity. You want your team to understand the key ideas and then remember them easily.
  4. Use active voice, and say “we will…” whenever possible. You want to communicate action and a positive attitude.
  5. You might have a set of norms for general team interactions, and another set specifically for meetings. This is helpful if some of your team members are not usually involved in meetings and therefore meeting norms are not as relevant to them.
  6. Consider having a separate document to explain the reason behind each of the norms, and possibly how they relate to your team’s values. This document will be helpful when you need to update the norms; because by then you might have forgotten why those norms exist.

 

Have a strategy to reinforce the norms.

Simply having a set of team norms will not help your team unless you use it.

You need to have a simple plan (with execution, of course) that regularly bring the team’s attention to the norms, and evaluate the team according to those norms.

 

What about you?

In what ways were the above helpful for you?

What other considerations can you think of that would help in crafting an effective team norm?

What would you do to move forward in crafting your team norm?

 

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