How to Bridge Differences in the Workplace

Different communication styles, preferences and priorities. Different goals, agendas, and ambitions. Different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. These differences represent latent potential. They represent opportunity, innovation, and outside-the-box thinking. These differences bring perspective.

The challenge is that they don’t necessarily make it easier to solve problems and make decisions. In fact, different perspectives often lead to unnecessary conflict, misunderstandings, and wasted energy as people try to manage around each other.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the processes we help executive teams implement to bridge those differences is to create norms. Norms are simply a common and shared set of guideposts that bring values into reality. They give team members a common language and way of approaching work together. When norms aren’t intentionally created, bad habits usually creep in. For example, I’ve noticed many of my clients begin their meetings about seven minutes late.  The norm is to arrive late enough not to have to wait too long for the others, but not so late as to be the last one in the meeting. Not so productive, is it.

Are you looking for a different way to work? If so, read on for sample norms, and tips on how to create norms on your team.

Sample Team Norms

Team norms can address a number of interpersonal focus areas. They can guide how a team conducts meetings, engages in dialogue, and makes decisions. They might address how a team tracks action items, assigns work, and holds each other accountable. Here is a compilation of team norms from a variety of my client engagements and in no particular order or priority.

  • Hold great meetings: Meetings should be well-planned (with an agenda), and start and end on time. Only one person should speak at a time, no side bar conversations.
  • Decisions will be summarized at the end of each meeting. We will also discuss  the people/stakeholders with whom we will cascade information.
  • Participation. We will be prepared, present, and engaged in team meetings.
  • Accountability. We will go directly to each other first when we have a conflict.
  • Have fun.
  • When on vacation, minimal contact with work.  Balance is important to us.
  • Email: “To” requires action, response; “cc” is FYI.
  • Keep calendars up to date and respect others’ calendars.

I’ve found that about 5-8 team norms is a manageable set that people can buy into.

Tips to Create Team Norms

Here are some tips to creating team norms that will help make the process successful.

  • Schedule a meeting with your team and ask everyone to be prepared with ideas about what the team norms should be.
  • During the meeting, give all team members an opportunity to speak. Keep the team talking until there is consensus around the norms.
  • Keep the norms visible. Some teams like to frame them and keep them in a central area. Others prefer to post them on their weekly meeting agenda.
  • Lead by example. Model the behaviors outlined in your norms. Your behaviors will set the tone for team culture.
  • Encourage team members to hold each other accountable for their behaviors.

Your team can establish norms that are unique to your culture. The key is to find a common way of working together so that people can appreciate and understand their differences and ignite their potential when they are together.

What norms (positive or not-so-productive) are part of your team?