Effective Teams Part 3: How to Influence Team Norms

Sep 13, 2010
4 Min Read

In a recent post, I described how group norms can have a strong effect on team performance. With this blog post, I want to ask and address, how do these norms develop and is there anything that can be done about it?

How and When Team Norms Develop

  • All teams have norms that guide behavior towards conformity.
  • Norms of previous groups we have belonged to influence our expectations of others’ behavior in future teams.
  • Early team interactions establish norms.
  • Norms exist around behaviors that hold some significance to the team.
  • Informal norms develop to support the team mission.
  • Norms are more likely to be set during periods of time when there is uncertainty about what to do and how to behave.
  • Informally set norms can often transcend competing formal guidelines.

The establishment of norms is an activity that is generally ignored by team leaders and team members. Anything you read about team performance is likely to advise you to establish expectations, guidelines, etc. but this is often disregarded, especially when a team is assigned an urgent or critical task and is eager to get to work. Then, when a conflict arises, it is discovered that the members had different expectations.

How to Influence Norms

  • Because norms are highly influenced by early interactions, one way to establish the team norms you desire is to be very deliberate when building your team.
  • If there are existing norms, determine what they are (observation, interview, or simply ask team to identify) and then get the rest of the team to realize and identify the influence on their behavior.
  • If norms need changed or to be added, brainstorm a list of behavioral guidelines that will make the team more effective. Make sure the entire team is involved in this activity. Consensus must be reached.
  • The difference between desired norms and current behavior is a gap and must be dealt with as any other change initiative.
  • Once established, write down the new norms and keep them visible. Onboard new team members with these expectations.
  • Deal with unwanted behavior (deviation from norms) quickly and make the lessons known publically.

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