Team Norms

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Do you feel there are undercurrents of tension that may be sabotaging the success of your team?

No-one in particular is breaking any rules, but there's some on-going niggling, people clashes and actions that prevent your team from being all that it could be? If you do, then may be you haven't clearly, documented team norms.

What Exactly Are Team Norms?

Norms are the bridge between principles and rules.

Norms are different from rules in that rules state exactly what must occur, when and how.

Principles are more general in that they guide people but never provide the 'how' to do it.

Therefore to bridge the gap between the closely defined 'how' to do it of rules, and the more loosely defined 'guide', of principles we use norms.

In effect with norms you are saying, "This is what we normally expect to see happen, but we do understand that occasionally circumstances may cause you to perform outside the norm".

For example you may have a team norm that states

"Team members will be at their machine ready for a shift handover 10 minutes before the start of their shift".

Normally this is what occurs. However, one team member may well have a partner sick in hospital and for a period of several weeks the team is more than happy for this team member to come in at a different time.


If you haven't previously articulated team norms, rest assured your team already has in place a set of informal norms.

The challenge you face is, is that some of these norms may well not be the type that encourage high performance.

For example, maybe you have these types of informal team norms that could be creating problems:

  • Team members avoid giving each other direct feedback at all costs, preferring to talk about each other behind their backs
  • If the meeting start time is 10.30 everyone will show up sometime between then and 10.45
  • If you finish your work then rest, do not do any more work, as that puts too much pressure on your team mates to perform at high levels

Advantages of Creating Team Norms

  1. Reduces Conflict & Stress within the Team. Team member conflict is reduced when people know what's expected.Team members arrive in organizations with their own rules, attitudes, values, beliefs and personality styles.For example, for one team member (Ted) being a couple of minutes late to a meeting for a meeting is no big deal; for another (John) latecomers to meetings are disrespectful. And there are the small beginnings to what can become major conflict.

    Having a team norm such as "Be on Time" that is accepted by all will reduce conflict and stress between these two team members. If, Ted is being consistently late, then John can say "Hey we have a team norm that says, 'Be On Time'. I've noticed the last few meetings you haven't been - can we talk about what it is going to take, for you to get to the meetings on time".

  2. Enables Team Members to Hold Each Other Responsible Without Having to Third Wheel the Team Leader Sticking with our 'late to meetings' scenario: because the team norm is in place it stops Ted saying "And who died and left you in charge!" when the issue is raised with him by John.Without the norm, John would be left with little place else to go but "Well that's the right thing to do according to me".


    team norms and conflictMake sure all your team members buy into the team norms.

    With norms in place John can respond with "This is one of the team norms that we all agreed to. If you think the norm needs changing or don't want to work within its framework or if you think I'm misinterpreting it, then lets raise it with the team".

    Norms enable team members to quickly provide each other with feedback when they see performance is going off the rails, and without having to resort to the Team Leader to run interference. One of the great hallmarks of high performance teams.

    Having said that team members providing each other with feedback is often one of the most challenging (and often the last to get done well) aspects of high performance teams. To further enhance your understanding of team development you may like to read the article on team pillars.

  3. Enables Team Members to Focus On their Goals & Objectives Teams come together to achieve some type of goal or objective ... BUT how much time do you (and others) lose every day because of team conflicts?When there are niggling issues and conflicts going on, team members spend an inordinate amount of time on the niggles rather than on the business at hand - which is to achieve their strategic purpose.

    Teams know the behaviors which are holding them back from achieving their individual and team goals and the behaviors that are needed in order to succeed.

    Team norms are best developed by team members ... and because 97% of people want to feel that what they do at work is important ... you can guarantee that they will want to develop norms around those behaviors that have slipped into the team (or could slip into the team) that will hold them back from feeling successful.

How to Develop Team Norms

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