Why team norms transform team dynamics

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Do you know any leaders who accepted new opportunities, changed jobs, or joined as a new organization leader this year? Was that leader you? Great. I have some excellent tips for you.

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

Today we’re going to talk about team norms. The idea behind team norms is that every team has informal and formal ways to integrate, collaborate, and support behaviors that are encouraged by that team. The concept of team norms is to start with principles that the team generates themselves explicitly. This defines the behaviors the team promotes. By doing this, it helps focus the team on cooperative or accepted group behaviors.

Sure, as the leading executive, you can make a demand and say, “This is what we’re going to be doing.” Or, you can announce that these are the ideals, mantra, or ideology that the team will perform. But this approach doesn’t build joint ownership of any of those behaviors you just communicated. If you want to have co-ownership, you need collaboration in the development of those norms. Ultimately, it would help if you had input from your team and the leaders who’ll perform these behaviors and maintain these norms day-to-day. So how does this work?

Typically, we start with a roundtable session in which you discuss exemplary behavior. In a roundtable fashion, the group slowly develops a list of norms they’ll accept. By doing this, we establish how our team will perform and interact. This defines the dynamics of that team.

Starting in an organization as a new leader, you have an opportunity to change team interactions. Some of these interactions may be positive, and some may be negative. What’s relevant here is that we’re redefining how we want this team to interact for optimal performance. There are, of course, certain situations in which joining an existing high-performing team and offering up new norms doesn’t add a lot of utility.

However, when you pick a new team internally or join a new team externally, defining team norms is an excellent way to unify and establish a team performance baseline. Let’s discuss some examples of team norms. Examples of norms might be, “Treat others fairly,” or, “Be present,” or, “Be here now.” These norms are focused on engagement. If the team is in a meeting, electronic devices are put down, and the team stays focused. Suppose someone does need to respond to an email or check that voicemail. Not a problem—they step out of the meeting and check that email or take that call. When that individual can fully engage and give other team members the respect they deserve, they rejoin the discussion physically and mentally.

Another norm might be, “Respond to email promptly.” What does this mean? Is that 24 hours? Is it 72 hours? We need to define those norms clearly. What if you receive a voicemail? Should you pick that up in 24 hours, or is a couple of days, okay? Each team norm defines standards for baseline performance.

Team norms help the team understand what’s good performance and what’s not good performance. They also allow the team to challenge the leader or executive in a healthy way. Another norm might be, “You’re always able to challenge decisions respectfully.” So yes, we want a different and alternative opinion. Every opinion won’t be accepted all the time, but we want a complete set of data when making difficult executive decisions.

Here are examples of team norms I find useful:

  • Listen to understand.
  • Trust is everything.
  • Foster relationships.
  • Practice being open-minded.
  • Give colleagues the benefit of the doubt.
  • Respect the time and convenience of others.
  • Treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • Avoid hidden agendas.
  • Support each other; don’t throw each other under the bus.
  • It’s okay to ask for help; in fact, it’s encouraged.
  • Have direct conversations.
  • Be self-aware.
  • Celebrate accomplishments.
  • Raise each other up.
  • Think in terms of scale.
  • Take ownership.
  • Limit technology during meetings.
  • If you join, engage.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge others respectfully.
  • One person talks at a time—no side discussions.
  • The goal isn’t to agree, it’s to build a group that has a diversity of experience; listen to alternatives.
  • If you’ll be absent, identify coverage (if possible).
  • Respond to email within 48 hours.
  • Respond to v-mail with 24 hours.

Establishing team norms can provide significant benefits to team dynamics. Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!

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Peter is a technology executive with 19 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to CIO.com on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.