If you’re convinced that your team needs to have explicit, agreed-upon, written norms to operate by, the next question is, what kind of norms?  Say you’ve decided to follow something like my suggested process for creating group norms (see Creating group norms that stick).  Now you need ideas to get the team started on your brainstorming session.

The most important areas for norms to address, in my opinion, are communication and conflict resolution.  These two topics are huge, and encompass many sub-topics.  Here’s a laundry list of “norm questions” to get the conversation going:

  • What uses of email are appropriate?  Inappropriate?  When should a phone call be made instead, or a meeting scheduled?
  • How/when/why do we schedule formal meetings?
  • When/how/why are informal meetings appropriate?  In other words, when is it OK to stop by someone’s desk and interrupt them?
  • Who are the informal “go-to” people on the team, and for what?
  • Are we formal in meetings, sticking strictly to a pre-planned agenda?  Or do we let the discussion stray where it might?
  • Who runs meetings, and how?
  • Do teammates interrupt each other?  Is that ever OK?
  • How do we treat silent, reserved teammates?  Do we assume silence means they agree with everything, or do we try to draw them out?
  • What behaviors are considered disrespectful?  How do we handle them?  Who is responsible for addressing the issue?
  • Do we give each other honest performance feedback?  How/when/why?  Is it acceptable for everyone to give feedback, or only the team leader?
  • When we disagree, do we talk about the issues, or do we talk about personalities?
  • Do we have a structured method for dealing with conflict?  What is it?  Is it effective?
  • Is conflict considered healthy in general, or do we try to squash it as soon as possible?
  • Does everyone speak up in meetings?  Are all ideas considered?  Or do some people dominate?  If the latter, is that OK?
  • Are there specific ways that some teammates like to be approached and addressed?
  • What personal pet peeves do we need to be aware of?  What are each teammate’s hot buttons?
  • Are there certain teammates that seem to have more credibility than others, that we listen to more often?  Why? 
  • Are there “cliques” in the team?  Do they consist of people who are more alike, more comfortable with each other?  Is this healthy?
  • Does everyone feel included on the team?  Do we need to find ways to make certain teammates feel more included?  Are there behaviors that are shutting people out?
  • When someone feels that a teammate has been disrespectful in some way, how do we handle that?  Do we sweep it under the carpet?  Get a higher authority involved?  Address it directly with each other?  How can we handle it more effectively?
  • Are there and do there need to be any rules about break times?  Food in the office?  Noise?  Interruptions?  Other items that tend to be hot buttons in terms of office behavior? 
  • What value does the team place on time?  Do all meetings start exactly on time, or are we a little flexible about that?
  • When someone is out of the office, what systems exist to make sure they get any information they’ve missed?
  • How do we make important decisions?  Are they made by the team leader?  By the team leader but with input?  By team consensus?  By vote?  How do we decide how to decide in each case?  Is there a formal process?  Does there need to be?
  • Are there teammates who compete with each other?  How and why?  Is it healthy or destructive?
  • Do we know how each teammate prefers to receive information?  (e.g. verbally vs. in writing, formally vs. informally)
  • Do we seek different perspectives in meetings, or do we seek consensus?
  • When someone has an “off the wall”  idea, how do we respond?  Do we consider it? Dismiss it?  Laugh about it?  Something else?
  • Do we practice active listening skills?  Or is this something we need to work on?
  • Do we make an effort to understand each other’s communication styles?
  • Do we say what we really think in meetings?  Or do we “whitewash” our opinions for the sake of harmony?  Why?
  • Do we try to explain our reasoning and intent to each other, especially when we disagree?  Or do we keep our agendas hidden sometimes?
  • Do we have ways of making it “safe” for people to say what they really think?

This is by no means all of the questions you might need to ask.  What do you have to add to my list?

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