How To Use Team Norms To Guide Behavior

Jeff Boss
Jul 12, 2018 · 4 min read
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One of the first things I start looking for when coaching a new team is their norms — the unwritten rules that guide behavior. Do meetings begin on time? Are people on their laptops during meetings and is it clear they’re taking notes if they are? Is it acceptable to interrupt people in the middle of a sentence? What’s the preferred decision-making process (if there is one)?

Norms are important because they establish what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Just imagine if these unwritten rules didn’t exist in a team. You arrive at work one morning only to find an employee wearing his favorite Star Wars costume because he just saw the movie and he felt like showing up to work dressed as a Wookie. Ridiculous? Yes. But that’s what norms do: they guide behavior. There are three ways to establish norms in your team:

  1. Import them from a previous team
  2. Articulate what you want to see and create the norm
  3. Let the norm develop naturally

The second option is the most challenging because it demands creativity, and unless you know what you want, it’s difficult to identify what “right” should be. Here are four norms to consider for your team that you can adopt as resolutions for your team:

1. Show up on time.

It’s amazing what gets accomplished when everybody is present (that’s a little sarcasm for you). More importantly, you’ll see trust build throughout the team when attendance is predictable.

2. Greet people.

When your team is together and a new person enters the room, greet that person with a hearty welcome — a cheer, a “Heyoooo!” or a “There s/he is!” When everyone does this together, the energy in the room immediately skyrockets.

3. Speak to the positive.

This one is tough but completely worth it because it impacts all areas of your life. Speaking to the positive means avoiding contractions, or words that end in “’t” such as “don’t,” “can’t,” “shouldn’t” or “couldn’t.” The intent here is to train the mind to search for the positive rather than taking the easy way out, which is typically negative. It’s easier to say “I can’t do XYZ” than it is to assert oneself and say, “ABC is my priority, so I’m going to focus on that instead.” And while we’re at it, eliminate the words “try,” “can” and “can’t” out of your vocabulary completely and replace them with something more proactive like “I will” or “I choose.” You’ll be amazed at how much more confident you feel.

4. Listen until the end.

There’s nothing worse than somebody who interrupts another in mid-sentence (okay, there are somethings but mid-sentence interrupters rank pretty high). What a person is really saying by interrupting another in mid-sentence is a number of things, including:

  • “I’m not listening to you, I’m just waiting to speak because I’m already thinking about what to say next.”
  • “My idea is more important than yours and I’m not going to wait any longer to say it.”
  • “My time is precious and your idea isn’t (I’m more important).”

If you have someone who just loves to talk, give them a time limit to speak (but do it for everyone, not just the excessive talker). There will undoubtedly be times when interrupting is necessary (which is a great norm to identify — when it’s okay to interrupt). However, listening is a great way to extend trust, and in order to build trust, you need to extend it.

Now, establishing norms is the first part of the equation, but they’re no good without the second part: consequences. For norms to work, there should be consequences if they’re not adhered to.

What are your team’s norms?

Originally published on Forbes


Jeff Boss is an accredited leadership coach and team coach with practical experience working in high-stress environments. He works with leadership, management, and startup teams to help them solve their most pressing problems by establishing grounds rules (norms), managing team dynamics, building a firm foundation of trust, establishing communication and decision making processes that drive even better results, and unlocking latent talent within each member so they “show up” what they’re capable of showing up as.

Jeff is the author of two books, Navigating Chaos: How To Find Certainty In Uncertain Situations and Managing The Mental Game: How To Think More Effectively, Navigate Uncertainty, And Build Mental Fortitude. He is a weekly contributor to Forbes and Entrepreneur and has been featured in Fox News, BBC, HuffPost, CBS, Business Insider, and other media outlets.

As a Navy SEAL with the US military, his top military awards included four bronze stars with valor, two purple hearts, six combat action ribbons, and two presidential unit citations.

Jeff is currently pursuing his doctorate in Human and Organizational Learning.

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