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All Things Agile – The Importance of Team Norms

Mouy Loeung | Software Engineer in Test II in Sydney

This article aims to answer the following questions around team norms:

  • What are team norms?
  • What is the importance of team norms?
  • How do we set our team norms?
  • How do we follow through?

What are Team Norms

Team norms is a relationship agreement or a social contract between the team members regarding the way they operate, interact with each other, deal with conflict and what is expected of everyone. This, in turn, will help promote positive behavior and discourage negative behavior.

What is the Importance of Team Norms

To understand the importance of team norms, I want to touch base on the agile definition of the stages of a team

Team norms help the team to focus on outcomes and drives towards a high performing team by:

  • By allowing the team to agree on a set of team behaviors, they will stick to instilling trust and respect within the team
  • Creating a safe and desirable working environment for open and constructive feedback and healthy discussions
  • Holding each other accountable for their actions and provides a sense of responsibility to promote self-growth
  • Removing assumptions by setting concrete points on what the team expects from their members and what is expected of them
  • Making teams self-organizing by promoting decision making within the team
  • Emphasizing communication, knowledge sharing and belonging to a “team”

Research indicates that team norms a.k.a  social contracts, if implemented correctly, have many positive benefits, such as giving employees a feeling of control and security in their relationships with their leader and teammates. These contracts also instill a sense of responsibility, accountability, and trust among team members. For the leader, these contracts help motivate desirable workplace behaviors and can discourage dysfunctional behaviors without heavy-handed surveillance.

How Do We Set Team Norms?

To make team norms brainstorming sessions successful, participants should come with an open mind and be willing to actively participate.

There are a few ways to set team norms:

  1. Split teams into 3-4 members and brainstorm, then come as one team and combine each team norms. This allows a more intimate feeling as there are fewer people to discuss with
  2. As one team, brainstorm together

Having a facilitator is also a great way to help move questions and suggest topics along if teams are struggling to build team norms. The following can be some discussion pointers that may help:

  • Working agreement – How decisions are made, core time and availability, expectations
  • Sprints – What is expected in sprint planning, standup, retros, day to day sprint activities, and achieving our goals
  • – Best way to communicate
  • Status reporting – blockers, updating the team, and communicating to stakeholders
  • Meetings and discussions – What is expected of each of the members in meetings
  • Conflict resolution – How do we solve them, what is expected of each member during times of conflict
  • Team expectations – What my team can expect from me, What I can expect from my team
  • Definition of Done – When is a story complete?

NOTE: It is important the team comes up with what they want to discuss as their team norms as opposed to providing them with a list of already made discussion points

How Do We Follow Through?

Once team norms are set, it is important the team continues to visit these norms so it is engrained into their day-to-day work. Here are some ideas:

  • Revisit 3-4 team norms every retro
  • Regularly update team norms to improve the effectiveness
  • Find creative ways to incorporate team norms in things such as bookmarks
  • Make copies of the team norms and make sure everyone signs it as a contractual agreement
  • Print out norms posters and put it around the team where it is most visible

Why not create a team norm bookmark so members can use them while reading agile books”  (smile)