Teams, like families, adopt patterns of behaviour based on preference, familiarity and habit. Some are positive and lead to effective and efficient interactions. Others are counterproductive and impede optimal results. In aggregate, they define the ground rules for how a group of people get things done.
Examples of open and closed team ground rules are: only ideas are challenged, not the people who have them; everyone’s opinion must be heard before making a decision; the leader’s view is never to be challenged; and information is shared on a ‘needs to know’ basis.
Group behaviours are most evident in meetings. It's fascinating to observe a team for the first time. You can identify its unwritten ground rules by what you see, hear and feel. How time is spent, what is said or not said and the emotions telegraphed through body language are all clues that point to established protocols.
Roles that people play are also a form of permissible behaviour. These are accepted character types that people take on. Common roles are the advocate (what do I like?), contrarian (what don’t I like), mediator (where are we aligned?) and navigator (where are we heading?).
The longer a team is together, the more established are its ground rules and the less likely they will change. In addition to not improving over time, they may become less productive if circumstances change; challenged by new situations, issues can intensify and opportunities can be lost.
Resetting team ground rules is a way of jump-starting new mindsets, actions and behaviours to achieve better results. Usually, the refreshed ways of working foster better communication, more effectively use time and yield superior decisions.
Here are the steps to resetting your team's ground rules:
1. Get agreement from all members that the resetting exercise is worth investing in
2. Identify current behaviours that support and hinder the team being effective and efficient
3. Discuss and agree on new behaviours that will contribute to better results
4. Review the ‘start, stop and continue’ behaviours on one list to check for alignment and make any final revisions
5. Agree that everyone has permission to uphold the new ways of working
6. Read the new ground rules at the beginning of team meetings – it is easier to follow them when they are fresh in people's minds
7. Measure the team's demonstration of each behaviour at the end of each (or periodic) meetings, from 1 to 5, where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent
There are two easy approaches to selecting new behaviours: develop a list from scratch or review a master list of productive behaviours and ask people to select the ones they value. Agreeing on a few priority new behaviours is more beneficial than a long list of desirable ones.
Here are examples of productive team behaviours:
- Agree on objectives or outcomes up front
- Voice any disagreements or concerns during the meeting
- Listen to people’s opinions without interrupting them
- Discuss the pros and cons of every option
- Provide and accept honest feedback
- Withhold judgement or comments when 'brainstorming' ideas until all ideas have been heard
A team's ground rules affect the outcomes it achieves. Resetting how people interact will identify what they do well, don't do well and new behaviours to help them do better. The exercise will build people's skills and boost performance. It may even feel like a fresh start.