Ideal Team Behavior
For a team to perform at its peak, it must achieve a certain level of team maturity. Following Tuckman’s familiar model of group development, here are the stages that lead to behavioral norms in team performance.

  • Forming
    The initial stage building a team is “Forming” or the process of getting to know each other. This stage is typified by members feeling different levels of alignment, commitment, clarity, and influence.  Feeling more like “acquaintances” than a “team,” members tend to act more formal and cautious.
  • Storming
    The next stage is called “Storming.” This stage of team development is characterized by members deciding to “do their own thing” to get work done as individuals because collaborating and working through the team is inhibiting their individual success. At this stage you will see various degrees of interpersonal conflict, power plays, politics, confusion, and frustration.
  • Norming
    The next stage of team maturity is called “Norming,” and it is a positive sign. Here, people start to move from independence to interdependence.  They feel part of a true team and realize that they can increase performance if they work better together.To progress from storming to norming, teams most often agree upon goals and accountabilities, roles, success metrics, interdependencies, and behavioral norms.
  • Performing
    The ultimate stage of team maturity is “Performing.” It is all about synergy.  Here the team is able to collectively play to their strengths and desires to get more done together than they could as individuals.  In short, everyone helps make each other better.

The Role of Behavioral Norms in Team Performance
In every relationship, behavior is guided to a certain extent by a set of rules or social norms, spoken or unspoken. In a professional setting, teams work best with agreed-upon operating principles that steer interactions. We know from management training programs that high performing team leaders establish clear behavior expectations and agreements about how work should get done.

Done right, these behavioral agreements increase team trust – the foundation required to move up the team maturity continuum.  Trust can be understood as being able to predict another’s behavior. By that definition, trust builds a kind of psychological safety which, according to a recent Google study, is the number one factor for team success.

How to Establish Behavioral Norms for Your Team
First, it is important to acknowledge and discuss any company-wide values or norms that the team must abide by.  Then get your team talking about the best practices and team norms that make sense for your unique situation. Some teams like to run a “Best Team / Worst Team” activity to create an initial list of norms.  Whatever approach you take, be as behaviorally specific and observable as possible.

Then agree upon and codify how each behavioral norm directly contributes to the team’s overall success, how the team will hold people accountable to following the norms, and how the desired behaviors impact rewards and recognition.  Just remember that when the team changes or goals shift, the norms should be explicitly reevaluated.

The Bottom Line
Clear, agreed-upon guidelines about team members’ behavior promote trust and collaboration and improve team performance. If you are struggling in the Storming phase, it may make sense to create some team norms to set the stage for higher performance.

To learn more about the role of behavioral norms in team performance, download 7 Immediate Management Actions to Create Alignment with Goals

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