A Step-by-Step Guide to Developing Group Norms

How to Make Sure That Norms Increase Group Effectiveness

Team setting up group norms on a whiteboard
Hero Images / Getty Images

Group norms governing how team members interact with each other and the team's mission help teams be more effective. Rather than let norms naturally develop, consciously determine the kinds of rules, guidelines, and norms for team members to follow.

How to Develop Team Norms

The group members collectively establish team norms through a process of brainstorming and refining the ideas.

  1. Form and charter a team with a project, process improvement, or product development task, or pull together an existing workgroup.
  2. Have all members learn about the group and team norms to understand the concept. Start with reading a worksheet on how to create team norms prior to the meeting.
  3. Schedule and hold a meeting to establish and adopt group relationship guidelines or group norms. All members of the team or workgroup must be present at the meeting so that all group members own the resultant group norms.
  4. With an external facilitator leading, ask all group members to brainstorm a list of guidelines that will help create an effective team. If a facilitator is not available, ask a member of the group to lead the session.
    Remember that in a true brainstorming session, the more ideas generated the better. Do not comment on or critique the ideas. Simply ask a group member to record them on a flip chart or whiteboard where the whole group can see them.
  5. Once the group generates the list of group norms, cross off redundant ideas. You can decide to keep all of the group norms generated, or through discussion, you can determine the group norms you wish to keep and support as a group.
    There is no recommended number of group norms, and you can add new group norms over time if the group experiences the need for more guidelines.
    Keep in mind that all group behavior cannot, and should not, be legislated. Focus attention on the most important areas of interaction, such as effective conflict resolution methods, open communication, and all members participating, keeping commitments, and taking responsibility.
    It is also useful to determine how the team will communicate with people who are not members of the group. Respect and integrity are also essential elements in group norms.
  6. Each member of the group commits to living the guidelines. They also commit to telling each other if they believe that a group member is violating an agreed-upon group norm. They agree to be upfront with the involved party and not to gossip or complain behind their back.
  7. Following the meeting, distribute the group norms to all team members. Post the group norms in the team’s meeting room. Make sure that every member has a copy.
  8. Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the group in achieving its business goals as well as its members’ relationship goals.

Additional Tips for Developing Norms

Team norms should be in writing and regularly reviewed.

  1. All members of a workgroup must be present. if they are not, postpone the session.
  2. Record the agreed-upon group norms.
  3. Evaluate, at least monthly, whether the group is following the norms.
  4. Periodically determine whether the group needs additional guidelines to make their work together even more effective. Are they experiencing problems they need to discuss and agree upon?
  5. Keep in mind that every group develops norms over time. Your goal is to make sure that the norms your group has are the ones it needs for success.