In teamwork, the establishment of effective team norms plays a key role in creating a cohesive and productive group dynamic. The work of Richard Hackman, a psychologist, and organisational behaviour expert sheds light on their significane.
In this blog, I will explore why team norms are crucial for achieving success, drawing upon insights from his work.
Defining Team Norms
Team norms refer to the unwritten, informal rules and standards that govern a group’s behaviour and interactions. You may also have heard them referred to as working agreements, a designed alliance, or even quite simply the ground rules. These norms are developed through shared values, experiences, and expectations of team members. When successfully established, they guide team members’ actions, shaping their culture, decision-making processes, and overall performance.
According to Hackman, team norms can significantly impact team effectiveness and the achievement of collective goals. He identified several reasons why they are crucial:
- Enhancing Coordination and Collaboration: Team norms promote collaboration and coordination among team members. When norms are clear and agreed upon, team members understand their responsibilities to one another, reducing conflicts and streamlining efforts towards a common purpose.
- Creating Psychological Safety: Psychological safety is the belief that one can express oneself without fear of punishment or penalty of some form. Team norms that encourage open communication and non-punitive feedback foster a psychologically safe environment, leading to increased creativity, innovation, and risk-taking.
- Improving Decision-Making: Effective team norms establish a framework for decision-making. When teams follow agreed-upon processes, they can make well-informed and timely decisions, reducing the likelihood of indecision or poor choices driven by individual biases.
- Managing Conflict Constructively: In any team, conflicts will arise. Positive team norms enable the constructive resolution of conflicts, preventing disputes from escalating and becoming toxic thus preserving positive team dynamics.
- Encouraging Accountability: Team norms that emphasise accountability motivate team members to take ownership of their work and outcomes. This accountability ensures that team members are committed to achieving the teams objectives.
- Enhancing Performance and Innovation: Teams with well-defined norms tend to perform better and exhibit greater creativity and innovation. Trust and mutual respect, encouraged by strong norms, enable teams to take risks and explore new ideas without fear of judgment.
Implementing Effective Team Norms
To leverage the power of team norms you should consider the following steps:
- Involve Team Members: Team norms are most effective when developed collaboratively. Involve all team members in setting the norms, ensuring a sense of ownership and commitment to working with them.
- Communicate Clearly: Clearly communicate the established norms to the entire team, ensuring there is no ambiguity. Emphasise the reasoning behind each norm to gain buy-in from team members.
- Lead by Example: Scrum Masters, Coaches, Trainers, or Leaders of teams must exemplify the desired behaviours outlined in the norms. Leading by example reinforces the importance of adhering to established standards.
- Review and Adapt: Regularly review the team norms and assess their effectiveness. Be open to modifying or updating norms as the team evolves or faces new challenges.
You might also be surprised as to what situations team norms can be used. When I for example work with Scrum or Kanban teams I very early on have them create a set of team norms, I usually call them working agreements and have this as an agenda item as part of a team start-up workshop. Using them in this context is probably no surprise to you. I also use them when I run training sessions or facilitate workshops. At the start of the training or workshop, I have the group co-create our working agreements, this sets the scene for how we will work with one another for the time that we have together, team norms can be used in a variety of scenarios and still be very effective.
I also find that implementing team norms creates the foundations that help avoid the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team as described by Patrick Lencioni in his book of the same name, these dysfunctions being.
- Absence of Trust
- Fear of Conflict
- Lack of Commitment
- Avoidance of Accountability
- Inattention to Results
The work of Richard Hackman highlights the critical role team norms play in shaping team performance and success. Establishing effective team norms enhances collaboration, decision-making, and accountability, while also creating a supportive and innovative team culture. By harnessing the power of team norms, we can create high-performing, cohesive, and successful teams.
If you don’t already have team norms in place for your team or teams that you might coach my recommendation would be to set them up sooner rather than later and also consider where else in your work they might prove useful.