Norms are shared expectations about how things operate within a group or team. Just as new employees learn to understand and share the assumptions, norms, and values that are part of an organization’s culture, they also must learn the norms of their immediate team.
The shared understanding of norms helps teams be more cohesive and perform better. Norms are a powerful way of ensuring coordination within a team.
For example, is it acceptable to be late to meetings? How prepared are you supposed to be at the meetings? Is it acceptable to criticize someone else’s work? These norms are shaped early during the life of a team and affect whether the team is productive, cohesive, and successful.
Scientific research, as well as experience working with thousands of teams, show that teams that are able to articulate and agree on established ground rules, goals, and roles and develop a team contract around these standards are better equipped to face challenges that may arise within the team.
When preparing a team contract, it is important to phrase the parameters in positive terms. Avoid negatives. For example, that contract might state that “team members will arrive for meetings on time,” rather than “tardiness will not be tolerated.” A positive tone encourages cooperation and helps develop harmonious business relationships.
Having a team contract does not necessarily mean that the team will be successful, but it can serve as a road map when the team veers off course. The following questions can help to create a meaningful team contract:
Team Values and Goals
What are our shared team values?
What is our team goal?
Team Roles and Leadership
Who does what within this team?
Who takes notes at the meeting?
Who sets the agenda?
Who assigns tasks?
Who runs the meetings?
Does the team have a formal leader?
If so, what are their roles?
Team Decision Making
How are minor decisions made?
How are major decisions made?
Who do you contact if you cannot make a meeting?
Who communicates with whom?
How often will the team meet?
What constitutes good team performance?
What if a team member tries hard but does not seem to be producing quality work?
How will poor attendance/work quality be dealt with?
Much like group development, team socialization takes place in stages over the life of the team. The stages move from evaluation to commitment to role transition. Team norms are important for the team process and help to establish who is doing what for the team and how the team will function.
Creating a team contract helps with this process. Remember: the centerpieces in a successful team contract are (1) team values and goals, (2) team roles and leadership, (3) team decision making, (4) team communication expectations, and (5) appropriate standards for team performance.
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