Whether you're building a startup from the ground up or managing a team within a larger organization, one thing is certain: the way your team works together significantly impacts their effectiveness and productivity. This is where establishing strong and clear team norms comes into play.

Team norms (also known as ground rules, team agreements, and team charters) are guidelines that a group of colleagues establishes to shape their shared interaction and behaviors. Well-defined norms create a framework to foster collaboration, trust, and respect among team members; they can also prevent conflicts in the first place, and make it easier to resolve issues if and when they do come up.

In this blog post, we will guide you through creating a "Team Norms Worksheet," a helpful tool to facilitate the formation of beneficial team norms.

Step 1: Understand the Importance of Team Norms

Before diving into the worksheet, it's crucial that your team understands the significance of team norms. They help to:

  • Streamline decision-making processes.
  • Improve communication and collaboration.
  • Create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued.
  • Set clear expectations of behavior.
  • Prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

Ask team members to do some independent research in preparation for developing your team norms. Topics to read about include:

Step 2: Open Up a Team Dialogue

For team norms to be effective, everyone needs to buy in and feel a sense of shared ownership. Without that, even the best group norm team charter template will be nothing more than words on a page.

Begin the process by having an open dialogue about the need for team norms. This conversation should be participatory, and every team member should be encouraged to contribute their thoughts and perspectives.

Use open-ended questions to spark discussion and reflection, such as:

  • How would you like our team to operate?
  • What behaviors should we encourage or discourage?
  • How can we enhance our communication and collaboration?
  • What was a time when you felt a team you were on was working really well? What sorts of behaviors did the team show?

Step 3: Creation of the Team Norms Worksheet

Now let's move on to creating the actual Team Norms Worksheet. The structure can vary, but a good starting point includes the following sections:

Section I. Meet the Team (Roles and Responsibilities)

This section is about understanding what the team is trying to accomplish, and how each team member fits in. At a minimum, this meet the team template should include:

  1. Team Goal: What's the team's single-sentence objective? What are you trying to accomplish together?
  2. Individual Roles: What is each team member's responsibility? Who do we go to for what information and tasks?

You can add further detail to this meet the team slide template in the form of more information about how the team fits into the broader organization. Additionally, a meet the team bio template can include more personal information about each individual on the team (e.g., "When I'm not at work, you'll likely find me [exploring new restaurants in my area / going for hikes with my dog Sparky / honing my standup routine at the local comedy club / etc.").

Section II. Ways of Working

This is where you define the rhythm of your team's daily and weekly routines. Start by describing:

  1. Communication: What are our communication channels (technology platforms, recurring meetings, etc.)? What sorts of information should be communicated through which channel?
  2. Decision-making: Who is empowered to make which decisions? What forums should certain decisions be brought to?
  3. Planning: What types of plans do we need to create? How frequently should we make and update them? Who needs to be involved in their refinement and approval?
  4. Feedback: How frequently should we give one another feedback? What forms should this feedback take (e.g., written, verbal)?

For each of these ways of working, be sure to discuss:

  • Purpose: Why is this norm important for the team?
  • Examples: Provide examples of the norm in action. Consider a description of both good examples (i.e., what to do), as well as descriptions of what not to do.

A good test to see if you've defined this well enough is to ask yourself, "If I were a new hire joining this team, would I know enough to fit into this team during my first 2 weeks on the job?"


Section III. Lifestyle

Finally, define the lifestyle commitments each team member makes to one another and to their team. To start, describe:

  1. Hours of operation: When are people expected to be available on a daily and weekly basis?
  2. Team SLAs: How quickly should people expect a response during the team's "hours of operation?" What about outside of normal hours of operation?
  3. Colocation: For hybrid and remote teams, how frequently (if at all) is co-location required?
  4. Time-off notice: If you're going to be unavailable or out-of-office for an extended period, how much advance notice do you give your team members?
  5. "Big red button": If there's a team (or broader company) emergency / urgent priority, how does it get communicated, and how does it change these lifestyle norms?

While some of these lifestyle commitments may seem basic, research has shown that defining them reduces anxiety and improves the quality of our experience -- both at work, and outside of it.

Step 4: Collective Brainstorming and Filling the Worksheet

In a meeting, use the worksheet as a guideline to brainstorm possible team norms. Remember, these norms should not be imposed top-down from management, but collectively agreed upon. Encourage every team member to contribute and voice their opinion. Be sure to discuss each norm's purpose, examples, and accountability measures.

Step 5: Review and Agreement

Once the worksheet is filled out, review it together as a team. Clarify any confusion, discuss any disagreements, and refine the norms as needed.

Each member of the team should feel comfortable with the norms and agree to uphold them. Discuss how the team will uphold this team charter, and how the team will hold one another mutually accountable in the event a norm isn't being followed.

Consider signing (physically or metaphorically) your team norms template as a way of signaling your collective agreement.

Step 6: Revisit and Revise

Establishing team norms isn't a one-time event. Regularly revisit and revise the norms as the team grows, evolves, and learns more about working together. This ongoing process helps ensure the norms remain relevant and effective.

In conclusion, creating a Team Norms Worksheet is a collaborative and thoughtful process that can bring tremendous benefits to your team’s dynamics and productivity. Remember, the best norms are those that reflect your unique team – their values, goals, and working styles. Let this be a tool for nurturing a cohesive, respectful, and high-performing team. Good luck!