The foundations of great teamwork: behavioural norms

September 17, 2021


The way we behave in as a team is usually governed by a set of unwritten rules and behaviours (or norms).

Usually these aren’t conscious or decided upon, they develop and transform over time, for the good and bad.

Research shows that working as a team to formally define norms can have positive benefits for the team. A set of agreed behaviours can provide control and security within relationships.

Helping your team to collectively create these is a great step toward answering the question: How to be a good manager?

Norms (or team behaviours) also have a positive influence on trust, accountability and responsibility.

Having a shared, documented set of norms makes it safe for anyone in the team to flag behaviour that is outside of these norms and, more importantly, ask why it’s happening. If teams can establish a strong foundation of trust based on their norms, this is a fantastic basis for other positive outcomes like healthy conflict and increased psychological safety.

Particularly for virtual teams where it can take longer to establish trust, investing time on the foundations of good teamwork — goals purpose and norms — can accelerate how quickly trust is built. And according to Fung (2014) when trust is high, project performance, team satisfaction, team effectiveness and team cohesion all improve.

How to document team norms

Documenting your norms doesn’t mean that they need to change or become dry or formal, what’s most important is to ensure everyone has a say. Norms cannot be imposed or created top down by a leader. Leaders should be involved in the process to offer guidance, but the whole team must contribute and agree to what’s on the list.

Have some fun with the exercise, it’s always interesting to hear what your teammates think are good and bad behaviours. Remember you’re looking forward not back so don’t worry if something you’ve done is on the ‘bad’ list, it’s likely you’re not alone.

Where to start

Think about the ground rules that you’d like to set for your team. These can be anything from decision making to communication, meeting etiquette or how much you socialise outside of work.

Saberr helps teams determine their norms by helping them identify the worst behaviours a team could exhibit — ‘anti norms’. It’s a simple exercise that shouldn’t take more than about an hour.‍

Try it

  1. Start by thinking, what would be the worst things we could do as a team?
  2. Write them down then group the list so you have no more than 10 headings about the worst things you could do.
  3. Agree on a set of up to ten ‘anti-norms’
  4. Flip the phrases to create positive norms.

For example:

Anti norm = Nobody respects each other’s time

Norm = Arrive on time for meetings, be realistic about what you can get done and keep meetings a reasonable length.

      5.  When you have a list of up to ten norms that you’ve debated and agreed upon as a team, make sure they are visible to everyone in the team either digitally or on the wall. This will empower the team to follow the norms they’ve created together.

Defining norms using the anti norm process makes it really clear how they should behave in order to work well together.

Being part of their creation also means that everyone in the team is accountable for upholding the norms and calling out those who aren’t adhering — which when you’ve created ‘anti norm’s means they’re behaving ‘the worst way possible’. Norms make it easier for new starters too, there’s no guess work in finding out how long they should take for their lunch break or how decisions are made.

Remember to revisit your norms on a regular basis. Recognise their importance, they’re how you express your group identity to each other, the rest of the company and your clients.

Need some help with norms? Saberr can help. Click here to learn more.‍building high performance teams

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