Every group has its own rules that guide how they do business and get things done. These patterns of behavior may be a conscious set of established guidelines for conducting a meeting – or an unconscious lack of boundaries that allow members of the group to bully, shame, and dominate one another.
When groups create and commit to the use of norms as a means through which they communicate with one another, they are more likely to make collaborative decisions, resolve issues, and come to consensus. They provide opportunities for group members to individually and collectively express their values through their words and actions. Norms reduce tension, conflicts, and resentments.
If group norms are abstract, unfamiliar, or do not exist, decisions are rarely achieved through consensus. Without norms, personal agendas of the most dominant personalities guide the decision-making process. Some members may feel coerced to agree upon solutions they do not want nor support. Group norms set boundaries that encourage healthy dialogue.
When composing norms for your group, avoid statements containing the words “not” or “don’t.” Rather than stating behaviors you won’t do, choose statements that express what you will do and result in positive actions. For example, rather than stating “Don’t interrupt others when they speak,” you may add “One person speaks at a time” and “Listen respectfully to all ideas.”
Sample norms also include:
- Begin and end meetings on time.
- Encourage everyone to participate in discussions.
- Allow the facilitator to moderate discussion.
- Support your point of view with facts.
- If you don’t know the facts, find out.
- Speak respectfully to one another.
- Speak respectfully about others.
- Use “I” statements.”
- Be mindful of nonverbal communication and body language.
- Conduct group business within the meeting.
- Conduct personal business outside of the meeting.
Sometimes an administrator or group leader must establish temporary norms for new organizations or organizations in crisis. Groups may also collaboratively decide to revise norms. Norms are fluid and designed to support dialogue, build trust, and create a safe platform for teamwork.
It is critically important for all group members to hold one another accountable during discussions. Norms allow a means to do that. For example, if an individual on your team repeatedly interrupts others, it is up to someone in the group to directly repeat aloud one of the norms, “One person speaks at a time.”
Resist tendencies to blame others for challenges or obstacles obstructing group progress. Examine the facts. Use data to identify issues and create solutions. If you don’t know, find out. Talk to the person or persons before you make judgments or criticize them – especially if those individuals are not present during discussions. Conclusions and opinions based on assumptions destroy trust.
Gossip is divisive and destructive. Gossip that is tolerated within a group – even under confidential circumstances – is still gossip.
If your group wants to create its own norms, try these tips:
- Brainstorm a list of norms you believe would help your group run successful meetings.
- Allow for questions and discussion about suggested norms. Reword norms if they need clarification.
- Limit the number of norms and number of words in your norms. Wordy statements are easily forgotten. (I suggest up to seven norms with no more than seven words in each statement.)
- Combine norms into single statements and eliminate norms that are not aligned with your vision statement and core values.
- Make copies of the norms for all group members and post them in your meeting room.
Collaboration is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice. Consensus creates a framework that invites full participation of all group members. Consensus does not guarantee everyone will arrive at unanimous decisions; the process of consensus allows groups to find solutions with which they generally agree and support. Norms provide safe boundaries for which discussions can occur.
Norms are only as successful as the group members’ willingness to abide by them and call one another to do the same. They help a team move forward inspired and motivated to uphold their principles; confident in the security such guidelines provide.
How can norms empower the members of your group?
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