2 Practical Questions That Help Teams Work More Effectively

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

Like most of you, I want to help create and benefit from having a great work environment and a great work culture. Corporate culture matters. You might have heard the often-quoted research from Mike West that strategy accounts for 2% of corporate performance variability while culture accounts for 17% of performance variability. Many respected researchers and business leaders, like John Kotter and James Heskett, have written about the impact culture has on business performance.

I’m a believer that although no one leader can change a corporate culture overnight, we can directly change our team’s climate as easily and as quickly as we can press a button on a thermostat to change the temperature in a room.

One way to do that is by creating a healthy set of team norms. Norms are expected and shared practices or behaviors for individuals within a group.  Some norms are standards for making decisions or explicit and tangible actions – like “we greet customers with a smile."  Some norms are less tangible and more implicit – like "don’t take yourself too seriously" – and are created through the interpersonal relationships and interactions between individual team members.

 Here’s a straightforward, practical approach for creating team norms at your next team meeting:

  1. Briefly explaining what norms are and how they can help teams perform better.
  2. Ask everyone “What are the undesired, yet unspoken, norms that exist within our team?” Have people take a few minutes to write their answers individually and anonymously on sticky notes. One idea per sticky note. Collect as many answers as possible on the sticky notes and post them to a wall or flip chart
  3. Make sure everyone in the room understands the meaning of each written answer. If not, confirm the meaning or ask for examples.
  4. Remind people what the team vision is (you have a team vision, right?) and how that compares with the current situation.
  5. Then ask everyone, “What norms or shared practices are necessary to realize the team vision?” This time, have the team discuss out loud. Again, post all the ideas to a whiteboard or flip chart. Facilitate the team to reach a consensus on the no more than 7 team norms. Confirm explicitly that there is truly consensus. Ask for every individual’s commitment to adopt the norms. And, agree upfront on how to handle things if someone breaks a team norm.
  6. Make the norms visible around the office and in review them at the start of team meetings or other relevant situations. Make time during regular team meetings where team members can give each other feedback on how well they are using the new norms and where there’s still room for improvement.

 If you think this sounds a little like the suggestions I made in my post about ground rules, you’re right. The two are related.

And if creating and adopting norms are done well, over time they will become “just the way things are done around here.” And that’s when real culture change takes root.