woman standing at front of team

What Are Team Norms?

Team norms are mutually agreed upon standards that guide how team members work together and communicate. The purpose of team norms is to clarify expectations, foster team continuity, and mitigate conflict.

What Are Examples of Team Norms?

Examples include:

  • Promoting civil behavior where team members actions and words demonstrate respect and courtesy
  • Embracing different viewpoints or options in an effort to solve tough challenges.
  • Encouraging a coaching environment by establishing feedback loops
  • Nurturing communication with specific software tools in remote work environments
  • Fostering transparency by avoiding hidden agendas that serve self-interests rather than team interests

Why Are Team Norms Important?

Team norms play a vital role in promoting performance and collaborative behavior in the workplace. Here are five advantages norms can deliver:

1. Boost Team Unity

Setting standards can help encourage a sense of collective purpose among the team. These standards drive team unity as each person understands the behavioral expectations and how the team should operate and perform.

2. Elevate Productivity

Team norms build a shared value system. This system inspires team members to put their best foot forward. When individuals have specified guidelines to follow, the collective productivity and performance of the team improves exponentially.

3. Alleviate Conflict

In a study that followed teams with inclusive norms, 90% of workforce members reported high levels of team problem-solving skills. Having a set of norms helps team members clearly communicate their intentions, decreasing the likelihood of malicious behavior and office politics. Moreover, team members may be more open to constructively resolve conflict.

4. Encourage Accountability

When a team clearly outlines, communicates, and agrees upon norms, the team creates and instills accountability. Every person understands what the team expects of them. This shared responsibility ensures team members follow through on their commitments or face defined consequences.

5. Improve Trust

Agreement and accountability ultimately build trust. Team norms encourage everyone to behave consistently. This consistency brings comfort in knowing that you can count on colleagues and team members to act in a certain way.

two coworkers exchanging pack of papers

How Do You Establish Team Norms?

Here’s a five-step checklist on how to establish norms for your team.

1. Introduce Team Norms

As the meeting facilitator, define what a team norm is and its purpose. Depending on your team’s goals, vision, and current challenges, you will need to tailor your purpose to meet the right objectives.

2. Brainstorm Team Norms

Have each team member brainstorm and consider specific norms that they feel are appropriate for the team and its purpose. Possible norms could be listed out on a flip chart, white board, or on small paper cards. Give team members as much time as appropriate to provide thoughtful and meaningful ideas.

Examples may include:

  • Being on time and prepared to all meetings (in-person or virtual)
  • Listening to the ideas of others
  • Being self-accountable. If you make a mistake, own up to it.
  • Avoid engaging in sidebar conversations that detract from our objectives.
  • Don’t interrupt others. Take time to reflect and absorb information before responding.
  • Providing candid yet constructive feedback. Don’t take feedback personally.
  • Staying on top of project status updates

3. Identify Themes

Have your team share their ideal team norms and provide a brief explanation of why they’re important. Identify any patterns or common themes that emerge. These can be grouped into buckets. Encourage your team to work together on prioritizing those themes that will have the greatest impact. Some themes may overlap. If so, team members can consolidate them to solidify a norm. For example, if themes of empathy and listening come up, you can combine this as support. This is still a planning stage, so all ideas are still malleable.

4. Define Action Items for Each Team Norm

Teams should support each norm with optimally-designed tasks and processes. These action items give team members direction and fuel harmonious dynamics among the team.

For example, if your team norm is advocating inclusivity, you may flesh out specific action items such as:

  • Taking time to recognize your teammates’ contributions
  • Modeling inclusive language
  • Providing and receiving feedback through 1-on-1s
  • Building empathy with teammates

5. Create Accountability

Be sure to document the finalized norms among the team and encourage your team to keep them visible in the workspace. For smaller teams, you can have team members sign the formally documented norms. This visibility can create a sense of accountability among the team as it illustrates individuals’ commitments.

6. Check In and Adjust Accordingly

Periodically check in with the team on the effectiveness of each norm. Find out what has been working and not working. Use this feedback to encourage team members to make necessary adjustments and shifts. Over time, some norms may be revised, removed, and or new ones added.

Are you ready to improve team performance? If you are looking to create team norms, establish a team charter or increase your level of team effectiveness, let us partner with you to develop a lasting solution.