How to Develop Group Norms: Step-by-Step

Use these steps to develop norms or guidelines for your team

Team setting up group norms
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In every team, over time, a set of rules is developed about how team members will interact with each other and their team's mission. These rules or norms will form regardless of whether they are effective for the team, the accomplishment of the mission, or the interaction with the larger organization outside of the team.

They develop over time based on the actions of the people in the group and their interaction with each other and the larger organization. Some unconsciously developed norms will work for the group but many will not.

In fact, if team norms are left to develop on their own, some of the ways of interacting and making progress may actually undermine the team's efforts to succeed.

Consequently, you will want to consciously determine the kinds of rules, guidelines, and norms that the team members agree to follow. There are significant reasons why a team will want to develop their team norms. 

How to develop team norms

Once convinced, these are the steps to follow to reach agreement on a set of norms that will guide the behavior and interaction of team members.

  1. Form and charter a team with a project, process improvement, or product development task. Or, pull together an existing workgroup.
  2. All members need to read about group and team norms to understand the concept. Start with reading 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 the resultant group norms are owned by all members of the group.
  1. With an external facilitator leading, or a member of the group, in the absence of a facilitator, leading, all group members should brainstorm a list of guidelines that will help create an effective team.
    Remember that in a true brainstorming session, the more ideas generated the better. Do not comment on nor critique the ideas. Simply ask a group member to record them on a flip chart or whiteboard where the whole group can see them.
  2. Once the list of group norms is generated, you will want to cross redundant ideas off the list. 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 new group norms can be added over time if the group experiences the need for more guidelines.
    Keep in mind that all group behavior cannot, and should not, be legislated, but the most important interaction areas do need attention. Examples include effective conflict and conflict resolution methods, communication, 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.
  1. 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 actually involved party and not to gossip or complain behind her back.
  2. 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.
  3. Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the group in achieving its business goals as well as its members’ relationship goals.

    These additional tips will help your team succeed in developing norms

    1. All members of a workgroup must be present or postpone the session.
    2. Do record the group norms agreed upon as memories are short.
    3. Evaluate whether the group is following the norms, at least monthly.
    4. Periodically determine whether the group needs additional guidelines to make their work together even more effective. Are they experiencing problem areas about which they need to make an agreement?
    5. Keep in mind that every group develops norms over time. Your goal is to make sure that the norms that your group has are the ones it needs for success.