The members of every team and workgroup develop particular ways of interacting with each other over time. Effective interpersonal communication among members and successful communication with managers and employees outside of the team are critical components of team functioning.
How a team makes decisions, assigns work, and holds members accountable determines whether or not the team is successful. With so much riding on the outcome, it doesn’t make sense to leave interactions to chance. If you form team relationship guidelines, or team norms, early on to ensure team success, you can shape the culture of the team in positive ways.
Team Norms and Relationship Guidelines
Team norms are a set of rules or guidelines that a team establishes to shape the interaction of its members with one other and with employees who are external to the team. Team norms can be developed during an early team meeting, preferably the first meeting, and more norms can be added as the team deems necessary.
Once developed, team norms are used to help guide the behavior of team members and are used to assess how well team members are interacting. These guidelines enable members of a team to call each other out on any behavior that is dysfunctional, disruptive, or that is negatively impacting the success of the team’s work.
Perhaps Ken Blanchard, co-author of “The One Minute Manager,” said it best when he equated a river without banks to a pond. Likewise, a team without relationship norms leaves itself open to expand into potential interpersonal problems.
Team Norm Essentials
Predictably, teams can have trouble with particular components of interpersonal communication and interaction because they put a lot of diverse personalities and backgrounds into one space.
Following some essential team norms can help alleviate many of the problems that may arise:
- Team members as coworkers: All team members are equal; every team member’s opinion will be thoughtfully considered; each team member will keep all commitments by the agreed upon due date; each team member agrees to constantly assess whether team members are honoring their commitments to the team norms.
- Team member communication: Team members will speak respectfully to each other, will not talk down to each other, and will recognize and thank each other for their contributions.
- Team member interaction in meetings: Team members will listen without interrupting; hold no side or competing conversations; follow the rules for effective meetings; attend meetings on time; end meetings on time; work from an agenda; use minutes recorded at each meeting as reference points.
- Team organization and function: Leadership will rotate monthly, the team management sponsor will attend at least one meeting a month.
- Team communication with other employees including managers: Team members will make certain they have agreement on what and when to communicate, and complaints about team members will be addressed first among team members.
- Team problem solving, conflict resolution, and decision making: Team members will make decisions by consensus, but the majority will rule if a timely consensus is not reached, and conflicts will be resolved directly among the people in conflict.
Team norms can be expanded for your specific needs and can encompass as many topics as the team deems necessary for successful functioning. It’s best to start with a few team norms and add more norms as needed. Make sure your team norms are written and posted where team members are reminded of their commitment.
Cohesiveness is the extent to which team members stick together and remain united in the pursuit of a common goal. A team is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the team as a whole.
Members of a highly cohesive team focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability among the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process.6
Successful business strategies are usually carried out by an effective team with a high level of team cohesiveness. Highly cohesive teams are more committed to the goals and activities, are happy when the team succeeds and feel part of something significant, all of which increases self-esteem which in turn increases performance
Key Drivers to Achieve Team Cohesiveness
High-performance teams are what make companies successful. Whether the task is to create an innovative product or service, or to design a new process or system, teams rather than individuals are assuming more of the load than ever before. The ideal team combines individual talents and skills into one super-performing-whole with capabilities that surpass those of even its most talented member.
High-functioning teams are not the result of coincidence. They achieve greater levels of participation and collaboration because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of team identity, and have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness. Such teams possess high levels of team emotional intelligence.
EI is generally defined as encompassing the awareness and understanding of emotions (Figure 3). It incorporates the application of this understanding to decision making, regulation, and self-management: these three are all important aspects of teamwork. Studies have shown that EI has a positive impact on teamwork by making the team more cohesive.2
Building an emotionally intelligent team requires developing emotional competence for the group as a whole. Teams that enjoy high levels of EI have established norms that strengthen trust, group identity, and efficiency. As a result, their members cooperate more fully with one another and join forces more creatively in furthering the team’s work.7
Research from organizational behavior experts Vanessa Druskat and Stephen B. Wolff suggests following three practices to build your team’s EI:
- Make time for team members to appreciate each other’s skills.
Interpersonal empathy is critical to confidence. Interpersonal empathy builds confidence within team members; once team confidence is achieved, individual confidence will then follow. The team must be aware of each member’s skills and personality. People on teams in which they knew one another better were more efficient and got more work done. When team members know the individuals they are working with, they attain a different level of trust with each other. Trust increases motivation and motivation increases commitment; once the two exist within a team you have achieved cohesiveness, which in turn increases performance.
Team-building activities are a great way to implement this EI-building practice. For example, when a team is formed at one company, organize several team-building activities – even outside of normal work hours and location – so that the team members get to know each other better and develop empathy. Planning meetings outside of the workplace builds camaraderie. Team-building activities also reinforce organizational commitment as the team perceives that the company cares about the success of the team as a whole. Games are a way to engage team members and learn about each other’s skills on a more personal level.
- Raise and manage emotional concerns that can help or encumber the team’s progress.
It is important to establish comfortable, team-endorsed ways to express the unavoidable anger, tension and frustration that arise in a team effort and to positively redirect that energy. Both humor and playfulness can be helpful tools in resolving conflict and relieving tension and stress.
A couple of examples come from two well-known companies.
- At innovation consultancy IDEO, team members tossed soft toys over cubicle walls when feelings ran high. Besides lightening the mood, this action served as a reminder that the group had established norms for expressing difficult emotions, thereby making them feel less threatening to individuals and to the group as a whole.7
- In another approach, Xerox team members wrote down their gripes, clipped them to play money in denominations from $1 to $100 depending on how serious they felt the issue to be, and dropped them into an “opportunities” jar.
- Celebrate success.
Building the EI of a team also requires the expression of positive emotions such as gratitude and admiration when exceeding expectations. Recognizing individual and team achievements not only fortifies a team’s identity, but it also spotlights its effectiveness and collective passion for excellence.
Team lunches after a good project has been completed is an example of a typical celebration. The whole team goes out to a restaurant to celebrate their success and hard work. Another example is featuring a team’s accomplishment in a monthly newsletter from the CEO, so the entire company learns what has been accomplished.
Above and Beyond Cohesiveness
Although cohesiveness is a crucial and determinant factor for team effectiveness, cohesiveness alone will not guarantee success without organizational commitment. Team members can feel cohesion with their teammates but be completely detached from organizational values and vice versa.
Highly effective teams must have both perceived team support (PTS) and perceived organizational support (POS), but their PTS must be higher than their POS. PTS can be defined as the “degree to which employees believe that the team values their contribution and cares for their well-being.” POS can be defined as “the extent to which employees believe that the organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being.”3
Above and beyond cohesiveness there are other subset factors that are important in team development to make teams work, as shown below and in Figure 4:
- A clear set of objectives, communicated explicitly by management
- Metrics allowing team members to evaluate their performance and the connection between the work of the team and key business indicators
- Ongoing training
- Decision-making authority necessary to reach business goals
- Team-based rewards and appraisal, not only individual incentives
- An open culture with easy access to relevant information and to senior management as needed