Using Team Norms to Create Change

Using Team Norms to Create Change
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Culture in Society and in the Workplace
In general, culture can be defined as the way of life for an entire society. It is comprised of the social norms that guide behavior as people lead their lives. We know what culture means in social settings outside of work. In the workplace, we know from organizational culture assessment data that workplace culture describes the way people think, behave, and interact but within the sphere of the norms shaped and accepted by the company’s leadership. How might that affect the concept of using team norms to create change?

With the increased use of people analytics, people managers report that it can be easy to forget that most employees experience their workplaces as social settings. People go to work and interact, first and foremost, as humans. The most effective people leaders support, nourish, and enable collaborative relationships that establish trust and are mutually beneficial to individuals, teams, and the organization.

Effective people leaders also know that leading and managing people goes way beyond SMART Goals and performance reviews. High performing leaders invest in creating clear, aligned, and potent team norms to create high levels of team alignment and engagement. How does this work?

How the Research Informs Us
It helps to look at a recent study highlighted by our microlearning experts in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin which explored the most effective approach to persuading people to engage in a new behavior. In this experiment, the researchers looked at how to move people to get flu shots.

Participants were divided into two groups:

  • Group A read an article claiming that most people get flu shots.
  • Group B read an article that claimed the opposite.

Next, all participants read one of two articles. One article described the positive effects of getting a flu shot (such as protecting against infection); the other article stressed the negative impact on others of NOT getting a flu shot (irresponsibly exposing others to infection).

Who was most convinced to get a flu shot?

Researchers were surprised to learn that it was the participants in Group A who had read the article about the negative impacts of not getting a flu shot. The conclusion was that these group members had been primed to understand that getting a flu shot was the norm, and they were loath to risk the high social cost of failing to meet that social norm.

How Does this Apply to Using Team Norms to Live Your Culture?
High-functioning teams are intentional in their interactions. They value their differences, listen, communicate well, seek input, and trust and respect one another. Team norms establish explicit, agreed-upon behaviors that inform how teams work together to deliver results AND create a shared language of what those behaviors look, sound, and feel like. High-performing teams don’t leave norms (and expectations) to chance. Instead, they define them, hold themselves accountable, and revisit them to ensure they inspire a healthy and productive environment.

Think about how team leaders try to effect behavior change at work. It can range from rewarding, modeling, demanding, micromanaging, or even threatening. But these attempts assume employees are motivated to change their behavior predominantly by external influences.

If you need people to change their behavior at work, try emphasizing social norms.  This approach to change management consulting accesses one of the most powerful internal motivations people have: membership in a group.

If failure to change one’s behavior is associated with “opting out” of accepted team norms, many choose to adapt their behavior in order to “belong.”

The Bottom Line
For leaders responsible for lasting culture change at work, make sure that you create, model, and reinforce both organizational and team norms.  The consistency and accountability will help create the changes that you seek.  Don’t be afraid to use team norms as a powerful tool to change behavior and live your desired culture.

To learn more about using team norms to create change, download Sample Team Charter Template

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