Group Norms or Relationship Guidelines


Every team has two components that team members must pay attention to if the team is going to succeed. The team must pay attention to the content mission (or goals or outcomes) expected from the team.

This is the content  that the organization has asked the team to create or the mission that is the reason for the team existing in the first place.

The team must also carefully shape and monitor the team process it uses toaccomplish the goals.

Team members must get along, respect each other, and practice effective interpersonal relationship building.

Team process includes:

  • How the team members interact with and communicate with each other,
  • How the team members communicate with employees who are not on the team, and
  • How team members will be responsible and accountable for moving the project forward and accomplishing the goals.

Long cited statistics demonstrate clearly where the majority of teams experience their most significant problems. They attribute 80% of the problems they experience to the process side of this equation. Teams experience 20% of their problems on the content or mission part of the equation.

This explains why the development of team norms for the process side of the equation is so important. Norms will naturally become established as people work together on the project. Why not create norms that support the accomplishment of the team’s goals – sooner and with conscious consideration.

See the Sample Team Norms

These team norms or ground rules are established with all members of the team participating equally. The manager of the team or the team’s company sponsor or champion is included in the discussion and must agree to practice the relationship guidelines developed.

In prior articles, I discussed:

Here are sample process norms or guidelines that a team might use to effectively conduct its business. You may use them as a starting point, but each team needs to go through the process of generating and committing to its own team norms. The team must own the norms.

Sample Team Norms or Guidelines

  • Treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • Transparency: avoid hidden agendas.
  • Be genuine with each other about ideas, challenges, and feelings.
  • Trust each other. Have confidence that issues discussed will be kept in confidence.
  • Managers will open up a space in which people have information and are comfortable asking for what they need.
  • Team members will practice a consistent commitment to sharing all the information they have. Share the complete information that you have up front.
  • Listen first to understand, and don’t be dismissive of the input received when we listen.
  • Practice being open-minded.
  • Don’t be defensive with your colleagues.
  • Rather than searching for the guilty, give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt; have a clean slate process.
  • Support each other – don’t throw each other under the bus.
  • Avoid territoriality; think instead of the overall good for the company, our employees, and our customers.
  • The discussion of issues, ideas and direction will not become a personal attack or return to haunt you in the future.
  • Managers are open, communicative, and authentic with each other and their teams.
  • It’s okay to not know the right answer and to admit it. The team can find the answer.
  • Problems are presented in a way that promotes mutual discussion and resolution.
  • It is safe to be wrong as a manager. Thoughtful decision-making is expected.
  • Own the whole implementation of the product, not just your little piece; recognize that you are part of something larger than yourself. Be responsible to own the whole picture.
  • Practice and experience humility – each of us may not have all the answers.
  • If you commit to doing something – do it. Be accountable and responsible for the team.
  • It is okay to be the messenger with bad news. You can expect a problem-solving approach, not recrimination.
  • Promise to come prepared to your meetings and projects so that you demonstrate value and respect for the time and convenience of others.
  • Strive to continuously improve and achieve the team’s strategic goals. Don’t let ineffective relationships and interactions sabotage the team’s work.

Teams need to expend the effort to practice all of these norms and to care enough about the team and its work to confront each other, with care, compassion, and purpose, when a team member fails to practice these norms.