Clarify expectations!

Team norms exist, whether you like it or not. Any team that works together develops a certain set of norms over time.

These organically developed norms, which are often unspoken, help team members know how to behave and interact with one another. While some norms help the team function more effectively, other norms might erode the team’s effectiveness.

One norm (which I liked) from several teams I worked with gives team members the freedom to voice out differing opinion, even if those opinions are contrary to the team leader’s opinion. One norm I often observe (and don’t like) is that of keeping quiet during meetings because “it’s not going to make any difference!”

As a team leader, if I could have a set of constructive team norms that help my team members work more effectively together, and not have any norms that might negatively impact the team, I would have a better team. I would then have more time to lead and empower the team and spend less time dealing with misunderstandings and mismatch of expectations.


What are team norms?

Team norms are basically guidelines that set expectations on the team’s behaviour and interaction with one another. You might think of it as a social contract within a team.

However, team norms are usually not limited to social interaction aspects of the team; they might include decision-making processes, meeting etiquette, etc.

Team norms can form through at least three ways:

  1. Developed over time,
  2. Inherited from another team, or from higher up in the organisation’s structure, or
  3. Intentionally crafted.

The first two options carry with them the risk of having undesirable norms, while the third gives the team an opportunity to shape norms to its advantage.


Five Reasons for Having a Written Team Norm

There are many benefits of having a written team norm. These include:


1. Clearly articulated expectations on acceptable behaviours

Having a written team norm allows you and the team to clearly articulate your expectations on acceptable behaviours (and, consequently, unacceptable behaviours), removing any ambiguity or misunderstandings. It also prevents norms from being diluted (with time) or distorted (when different people perceive it differently and then pass it on).


2. Allow new members to quickly adopt the norms

New members do not need to spend a long time figuring out the acceptable behaviours. The team (not just the team leader) could quickly and clearly communicate the norms and help a new member assimilate quickly into the team.


3. Accountability for both the leader and the members

Having a written norm allows team members to hold each other accountable. This makes it easier, and legitimate, for anyone on the team (both the leader and the members) to call out another person for any breach of the norms. Naturally, this also makes it easier for team members to hold the team leader accountable to the same standards.

“Having a written team norm makes it easier for the team to hold each other accountable!”


4. A way to help build desired behaviours

You can use written team norms to emphasise behaviours that the team wants to build towards.

Your team might be new and is in the process of figuring out how best to work together, or you might be an existing team that is trying to become more effective. Having these norms written down would allow the team to keep it an issue, and consciously work towards building those behaviours.


5. A way to benchmark the team’s behaviour

Once you have written down those norms, you may then use them to evaluate how the team members work together (assuming those norms are well crafted).

Whether you are reviewing together as a team or with individual members, having written norms helps you avoid situations like “It’s what I say versus what you say.”, “I didn’t know about this.”, “I thought it was…”, or “Nobody told me!”


Not just writing them down

Of course, the written piece in itself would not make any difference unless you and your team use it. You will have to talk about those norms, remind each other about them, and hold every one on the team accountable for them.

Writing them down makes it possible for you to do so.


What about you?

Which of the above tips is helpful for you?

What other tips can you think of that helps a core team be more effective?


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