Establishing Team Norms: A Guide for Leaders

Team norms help employees carry out duties efficiently while minimizing interpersonal conflict. Establishing and enforcing norms benefits team leaders by helping them effectively regulate behavior and promote productivity.

 

Choosing and implementing workplace norms is a multistep process that varies depending on your team and its needs. Keep reading to learn more about what team norms are and how you can successfully introduce them.

 

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What are team norms?

Team norms are guidelines or rules that govern how a team interacts with each other and with external individuals. These norms are often established with the formation of the team and become more specific as the team evolves. They influence how employees treat each other and allow the team leaders to assess individual productivity.

 

By enforcing norms, team leaders make it possible for the team members to recognize and report behavior that’s disruptive or negatively affects relationships within the team.

 

Importance of team norms

Why do you need workplace norms? Without them, work life can be pretty chaotic.

 

Here are some benefits of establishing team norms:

 

  • Ditch office politics: Team norms can address office politics, which often disrupt teamwork. Clarifying those expectations removes wiggle room for employees trying to make up their own rules.
  • Boost productivity: Team norms become automatic and streamline how your employees work together. They eliminate disagreements that would normally slow work down. That makes your employees more productive, which helps you achieve more as a company.
  • Improve morale: Having norms in place can keep workplace morale higher overall. Everyone knows what to expect, and friction and confusion are decreased, which boosts the mood at the office.
  • Unify the team: Teams with norms often have a unified feel. Even with diverse team members, there are unifying norms that tell everyone how to act to keep things civil. The norms can help everyone feel like they belong.
  • Prevent conflict: Without team norms, issues can sneak into your team. Workplace conflict, trust issues and lack of accountability are some examples. Norms can address those issues before they happen.
  • Easier transition for new hires: Established team norms are easy to teach new members of the team. They can easily acclimate to the group setting when there are clear expectations for everyone.
  • Encourage accountability: With clear norms in place, teams can police themselves and take accountability for their actions. They can also help keep their teammates accountable when they don’t live up to the norms. This can reduce how often managers have to get involved with difficult situations. 
  • Prepare for new situations: Team norms can serve as a framework for new situations. You have the behavior expectations in place, and your team can apply them to the new situation. It can lend structure to the unknown.

Where to start with forming team norms

Communication and interactions between individual members have a huge impact on the team’s success. The methods a team uses to manage its workload can encourage positive behavior and influence whether or not the team meets its goals.

 

To ensure the team realizes its full potential, leadership often implements team norms to cultivate a positive, productive culture. Deciding which norms to implement and how to enforce them is an essential part of starting a team. To do this, consider the purpose of the team and its objectives.

 

The priorities and personalities of the team’s leadership and members should influence the norms you create. Ideally, all norms contribute to accomplishing particular goals, such as preserving the employees’ safety, promoting productivity or encouraging positive behavior. 

 

Examples of team norms

The most beneficial norms for your team vary, depending on your goals and what kind of culture you want to create. For example, you might establish meeting norms to ensure your company meetings are purposeful and effective.

 

Here are some team norms examples:

 

  • Speak respectfully in workplace conversations
  • Be honest and transparent when discussing work-related topics
  • Listen actively and be mindful of others’ opinions
  • Never conduct a meeting with more than 16 people
  • Always be prepared when attending meetings or giving presentations
  • Only call meetings that are necessary
  • Arrive at work no more than two minutes late every workday
  • Give your manager three days’ notice when requesting time off
  • Keep an open mind when negotiating deals or confronting conflict
  • If you’re unsure of how to complete a task, always ask a supervisor for help
  • Keep physical contact in the workplace to a minimum
  • Be accountable for your actions

Best practices for effective norms

Once you understand the need for team norms, you can begin setting and enforcing norms for your team. This practice, also known as norming, is typically an ongoing process. Follow these steps to successfully establish team norms:

 

1. Identify the team’s needs

The first step in establishing team norms is determining your team’s needs, which will vary depending on its purpose. For example, if your team’s purpose is to produce large amounts of content in a relatively short amount of time, the team needs order, efficiency and drive.

 

To promote productivity, the team’s leaders need to choose norms that help employees meet deadlines, manage resources and stay motivated. Determining your team’s purpose and needs helps you understand which norms could positively affect the team’s success. 

 

2. Get team input

You’ll get better buy-in from your team if you involve them in creating the norms. Have employees think back to past positive team experiences and figure out what helped it work so well. They might also identify past negative experiences and hone in on what made them bad. These experiences can help you come up with group norms examples that might work for your group.

 

Discuss the norms as a team to get an idea of what your team members think. Choosing norms that the team supports will make it easier to get everyone to stick to the norms. It can also help you learn what the biggest issues are for the team.

 

3. Develop norms to address the needs

Once you know your team’s needs, choose norms that address those needs. Think of it as what behaviors your team can exhibit to get those results. For example, if your team’s workspace has limited resources, you might implement norms that regulate how the employees share certain tools or equipment.

 

Introducing a sign-up sheet or a time limit for the team’s conference room is an example of a norm that promotes efficiency and reduces the likelihood of an in-office conflict. All norms should directly relate to a desired result or behavior.

 

4. Create an implementation plan

Decide how you plan to implement norms. It’s easy to create team norms that sound good while failing to put them into practice. Establish timelines and steps for developing each norm. For example, if the norm is to only hold meetings that are necessary, you might establish guidelines that help you determine what qualifies as necessary.

 

5. Introduce norms gradually

You might have a long list of norms that you want to implement, but expecting your team to make all of those changes at once is unrealistic. Identify the top three to five norms where you want to focus your attention, and prioritize those top norms. You might start with the top one or two norms and gradually add more.

 

It can be difficult to make too many changes at once, so this method gives you plenty of time to practice one or two norms until they become second nature before adding more.

 

6. Communicate the norms

After you choose the team’s norms, it’s the responsibility of the team’s leadership to communicate the norms to the team and enforce them consistently. To accomplish this, many teams create a physical list of norms and post it publicly in the office or create a shared document that everyone can access electronically. Others write the norms in a contract that new members of the team must sign when joining.

 

7. Add accountability

If every team member is aware of the norms, they’re more likely to enforce them with a built-in accountability system. For example, if an employee notices that another team member is neglecting to answer an email or otherwise violating a norm related to communication, they’ll likely either approach them to discuss the issue or report the problem to a supervisor.

 

When an employee breaks a norm, it’s also the responsibility of the team’s leadership to speak to the erring team member. You might decide on consequences for not following the norms, such as a verbal warning. For a more positive approach, use rewards or positive recognition when employees follow the norms to encourage more of that behavior.

 

8. Reevaluate the norms regularly

A key aspect of team norms is that they evolve and develop as the team changes and grows. For example, the norms that governed a team of 12 might no longer be sufficient if the team grows to 24. Team leaders should periodically assess the team’s norms to determine whether they’re having the desired effect.

 

If a norm that was originally designed to increase productivity is now causing frustration or friction among employees, it may be necessary for the leadership to update, amend or even dispose of the norm. Regular revaluation ensures that the norms are always relevant and beneficial.

 

Team norms FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions concerning team norms:

 

How do team norms affect workplace productivity?

Team norms can greatly influence a team’s productivity level in many ways, including removing distractions, streamlining processes and encouraging teamwork. Team norms also affect efficiency by making it easier for team leaders to accurately assess productivity at an individual level.

 

For example, if a team leader institutes a norm that requires all employees to dedicate five hours per week to writing reports, it will quickly become obvious which employees are struggling and need additional training or guidance.

 

How often do team norms change?

Team norms often change as the team changes. How often they change depends on the team itself and how often it changes. It’s important to make sure the norms you use still serve the team well and help the group meet its objectives.

 

You might find that some norms don’t work as well in the real world. They might sound nice, but they’re not always practical. When creating norms, think about both the team’s current needs and how they might change in the future.

 

How can you get employees to follow team norms?

Choosing team norms that fit the needs of the group can help. Having their input in choosing norms and how to implement them can also increase employee buy-in. If your employees fight the norms or fail to follow them, evaluate the situation to see if you need to change the norms or educate the employees on why those norms are necessary.

 

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