Creating New Team Norms

Much like the humans who compose them, teams are living organisms with routines, habits, patterns, rituals and eccentricities. These traits contribute much to the team's personality. Teams whom are permitted to function within their norms exist in a comfort zone that affords them a certain amount of predictability and stability. Unfortunately, not all team norms promote team productivity and achievement.

The tricky thing about the majority of team norms is that they are invisible to those who conform to them. Team members mindlessly engage in behaviors and reactions because they are conditioned and accustomed to doing so. Whether it makes sense to do things in these ways or not, the patterns continue, simply out of force of habit.

To change, abandon, or revise existing team norms, the team must first become aware of the unspoken expectations that operate just beneath the team's radar.

To inspire awareness and revision of team norms:

  • In preparation for a team meeting, ask each team members to independently make a list of 10 observable team traditions, unspoken rules, habits, behavioral patterns, and predictable reactions. Provide each team member with a piece of newsprint so their list can be posted for all to see.
  • Post all lists at the onset of the meeting, and then create a master list by isolating the top five most observed behavioral patterns noted by the team.
  • Discuss the functionality of each behavior listed in terms of its impact on achievement of team goals. Look for opportunities to revise, augment, or abandon current behaviors that do not promote the attainment of desired team results.
  • Make specific plans as to how to implement new behavioral patterns, and break non-productive habits. Ask team members to hold each other accountable for adhering to new patterns until they become ingrained and habitual.

You can teach an old dog new tricks, and you can establish new teams norms in an established workgroup. Small conferences are an ideal opportunity where new team norms can be established in a relaxed working environment. Your teams will return to work fired up to succeed in your organisation.


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