Distributed Team Tip #2 – Agree and adhere to team norms

Agreements between team members on desired behaviours, supporting actions and communication has three clear benefits:

  • Sets a team up for success by establishing a joint “best practice” for effective collaboration
  • Provides guardrails that allow self regulation of behaviour
  • Lifts engagement

What are team norms?

“Team norms” are a set of guidelines created by the team, for the team, that inform how best to interact with each other. Other popular formats include “team working-agreements”, “team contracts” and team member “user guides”. While the formats are different, they all created by the team members to define the desired behaviours and outcomes.teamnorms.jpg

Setting up for success

When establishing a team, the individuals involved go through a well-documented pattern of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing as explained by Tuckman*. The process of working with a team to develop a set of agreed behaviours, helps the group fast track through the Norming and Storming states, to begin Performing sooner.

Performing is where you want to be

The Forming process involves team members understanding the challenge ahead and politely orientating to the tasks at hand. The Storming phase involves individuals sharing their ideas with people typically beginning to experience each other’s working styles. Agreeing on acceptable behviour within the team helps address early, the conflict which can arise when individual styles clash. The earlier you deal with this the better.

Through collectively discussing working styles in the “safe” setting of a workshop, disagreements can be resolved in a calm and blame free manner, versus the chaos which can erupt when surfaced while trying to get work done. By consciously dealing with norming behaviours, the team matures more rapidly by establishing the patterns of positive interaction required for high performance.

Guardrails for self-regulation

With an agreement in place, there is less pressure when addressing undesired behaviour. Where all team members participate in the development of their behavioural norms, they are more comfortable using them to self-regulate the team. For example a team member’s behaviour of checking their phone disrupting daily standups, may be called out as being against the joint agreement. Revisiting and adjusting these rules of engagement to cater to new or altered circumstances enhances trust between team members as they observe action to look after each other.

Lifts engagement

By crafting the type of environment in which they want to work in, individuals are more likely to want to stay with their team. A reduction in behaviours which are deemed unwanted, removes friction to getting work done, eases interaction within the team and provides for the opporuntity for fun – resulting in a happier place to work.

If you want to enable your teams to succeed and showcase their work with a sense or pride, take time to ensure they have team norm working agreements in place.


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