A team develops norms stipulating use of time, freedom to speak candidly, how and when to take risks, how to settle disagreements, and many other categories of behavior. Many teams have found that it’s not enough to assume that all members clearly understand the team’s expectations of behavior. Quite the opposite, they have found it exceptionally valuable to devote meeting time exclusively to the development of norms until the team agrees on an explicit statement of those norms. Clearly stating the norms gives every team member the power to help enforce them. For example, once the norms are set, the least vocal member of the team has the authority to bring the chronically late member to task, without fear of retribution or disdain.
Focus on Performance Goals
Performance is the key to any team’s success. Teams don’t come together for purely social reasons; teams have a job to do. Positive results are expected. Along the way, perhaps, team members can hope to have a rewarding experience and enjoy the company they keep. But first and foremost there is work to be done.
The leader has to ensure that the team’s purpose is understood and accepted. If that means obtaining further clarification from higher management the leader has to find a way to get that clarification. Reaching common understanding of the team’s purpose seems such an obvious prerequisite that we can only wonder why so many teams never seem to take care of this vital piece of business. Think of your own team experiences. Surely you have spent untold hours in meetings, feeling trapped in time, not moving ahead or back. That feeling is an unmistakable symptom of lack of clarity, and is common during experimentation.
What are norms and why does a team need them? Norms are those beliefs, perspectives, or attitudes that a team holds in common. Norms determine how the team will govern itself. The leader’s role is to help the team develop and clearly state its norms so that team members have no misconceptions about the behavior they expect of each other. Norms influence the behavior of team members in almost every aspect of the team process. Norms are unique to each team. Norms provide consistency and a common ground which all team members can share, regardless of their opinions about specific team decisions and actions.
• We will determine and publish our team goals.
• We will start and end our meetings on time.
• Latecomers are responsible for updating themselves.
• Absent members who must miss meetings will appoint a proxy.
• We will rotate responsibility for completing meeting-related tasks.
• We will make decisions by consensus.
• We will not talk about our discussions outside the team.
• It is permissible to discuss actions we have taken toward achieving our goals.
• We will work together to resolve conflict within the team.
• When we commit to complete a task, we will do all within our power to complete it.
• We will notify all team members of our personal or job status
• We will notify the team of changes that impact on our responsibilities as team members.
• We will hold each other accountable for the team’s results.
• We will share credit equally for the team’s achievements.
• We will respect each other as individuals and as professionals.
Establish a Decision-Making Process
The third critical leadership responsibility during experimentation, helping to establish a decision-making process, is closely related to the setting of norms. The team is not acting as a true team if one influential member suggests and all the other members nod in agreement. Further, it is not acting as a true team if dissent is allowed to turn into disruption. One of the first decisions that team members have to make is how they will make decisions. Will they welcome debate or shy away from it? Will they encourage brainstorming or see it as a frivolous waste of time? Will they stick to the facts or consider emotions as well?
When it comes time to decide, what will be the precise mechanism: majority rule, consensus, or whatever the leader says? By written vote or voice vote? Are all decisions final or can discussion be reopened at some point? There is no right answer. The methods vary from team to team. The important message is that the leader takes responsibilities for helping the team choose. Experimentation is as volatile as formation is fragile, and that makes it a particularly challenging state for the team leader. A prolonged period of experimentation can become a team killer as infighting and personal rivalries split the team, first into factions, and then into fragments.
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