You might be thinking: What the heck are norms?! We’re so glad you asked. The official definition states that norms are standards of behavior a team expects of its members. What that means in practice is that norms are the ground rules for how a team collaborates. By explicitly stating norms, every member of the group will understand how to act (and interact) with others. They also provide a standard against which members can give each other feedback.
Norms are useful in a variety of collaborative settings, including meetings. Because not all situations require the same behaviors, it is useful to establish ground rules based on the type of discussion or meeting. Clear meeting norms will align the participants’ expectations and guide the actions of team members so you can have a more productive discussion.
Some norms refer to processes, preparation and communication practices which can apply to any meeting. Below is a list of meeting norms we’ve collected over the years based on our experience facilitating and attending meetings. As you review them, consider which ones might enhance your team culture.
There are many types of conversations that happen during a meeting. Every conversation will benefit from selecting norms that specifically relate to that type of discussion. Consider, for example, how a meeting might go differently if a brainstorm session has the norm “all ideas are good ideas” compared to “keep our resource constraints in mind.”
Virtual teams have additional layers of complexity because everyone is not in the same room. Consider using norms that address the common behavioral challenges with virtual meetings.
Norms are an easy way to introduce desired behaviors to your team. Start by adding them to your meeting agenda, so everyone has time to review them prior to the meeting. During your first few meetings with norms, it is useful to read them aloud and ask if anyone has questions or additional norms to add prior to moving into the first agenda item.
It is important to follow through on your norms. Ask that every person help identify when a norm is being violated. Role model this behavior by pointing to the norm and gently reminding a participant if he or she is not following it. Visual cues can be especially useful for this purpose. Writing the norms on a board or projecting them on the screen will continually remind participants to check their own behavior.
Aim for no more than 6 norms for any meeting. Too many norms become hard to remember and follow. There may be some norms that you need to be explicit about in the beginning but that eventually become standard behavior, like starting on time. When a norm has transitioned, remove it from you list to free up space for a new desired behavior.
We recommend you use our list as a starting point and add your own norms that reflect your organization’s culture and personal experience. Keep a running list of norms that you can easily draw upon when planning a meeting. Share this list with the rest of the team and ask them to contribute, as well as identify the norms they think the team needs to focus on most. Consider having “core” norms that apply to every meeting and “specialty” norms that change depending on the type of conversation to be held.
At the end of the day, meeting norms are like habits. They can easily overwhelm a group if you’re trying to do too much at once. Start by introducing the concept of norms. Be explicit about why you are including them in your meeting preparation, what value they’ll add, and how they will be used.
Do you have norms that you find to be particularly useful in your meetings? Please share them below.