Key learning outcomes:
- Learn that team standards shape the way a team functions and maximises a team’s effectiveness.
- Develop a process for your team to consult, discuss and decide on standards, including appropriate action when standards are not met.
- Determine that standards may relate to such areas as meetings, communication, commitments, problem-solving and behaviours.
- Acknowledge that standards need to be communicated to new team members and reviewed from time to time.
Research consistently confirms that an effective team will always outperform a group of individuals. However, it is important to note that just because you have a group of people working together, this does not automatically make them an effective team. There are a number of key factors that make up an effective team: they need to share a common purpose, results are measured on the collective outputs and leadership is shared. Our article “Working in Teams” outlines the characteristics of an effective team in more detail.
One way a group of people can become an effective team is to create team standards. These are essentially the rules that govern how the team works and behaves. To be effective, the team standards need to be set and agreed to by the team members and not dictated to them by a boss or manager.
When do you set the team standards?
Ideally, team standards should be decided when a team is first formed. Right from the outset, the team should discuss and decide on the rules regarding communication, meetings and behaviour. How often these are reviewed will depend on the length of time the team works together. For example, a team that comes together for a short project may set up the standards and never need to review them. On the other hand, a team that works together over the longer term may choose to review the standards on a regular basis, when new members join the team or as the team grows and matures over time.[wlm_ismember]
If your team has been working together for some time and team standards have never been set, don’t worry as this exercise can be carried out at any time and it will always be of benefit. You may find that the discussion becomes heated as issues are brought out into the open that perhaps were grumbled about privately. We recommend that you have someone from outside the group facilitate such discussions. They will be able to keep the discussion at a higher level and guide participants towards a useful outcome.
Are team standards really necessary for mature adults?
The short answer to this question is “yes”. The creation of team standards allows team members to go through a normal phase of team formation that will include discussion and perhaps even some disagreement. We outline this phase in detail in our article “Formation of Teams”. To be successful, it is important that all team members provide input and where necessary debate the proposed standards, so agreed standards are established. These standards form a clear set of guidelines that will influence team members’ behaviour while they work together. These guidelines outline the type of action the team may take when the boundaries are crossed. For example, a team may set a standard that meetings start on time, every time. They may take this one step further by stating that latecomers must buy coffee for everyone!
What is covered in team standards?
Team standards will usually cover issues that relate to how team members will interact with each other, along with expectations regarding meetings, communication, problem-solving, and reporting. The following are some of the common items you would usually find in a set of team standards, and some of the key questions you might want to use to get discussions started.
- How often and when will the team meet?
- What is the expectation regarding starting on time?
- Who will lead the meeting?
- Will this be the same person every meeting?
- How long will the meeting go for?
- What is each team member expected to bring?
- Will there be an agenda?
- When will the agenda be circulated?
- What if someone needs to discuss something outside of the agenda?
- Will there be minutes?
- Who will take and circulate the minutes?
- Are there any agreed reasons for not attending a meeting?
- How should team members communicate with each other?
- What method of communication is preferred, for example group email or Google group?
- What is the process if there is disagreement among members?
- What are the guidelines for handling differences of opinion?
- What common courtesies are going to be set, for example not interrupting the person speaking?
- What expectations will be set around project and action deadlines?
- How will work be distributed?
- How will leadership work?
- Will different team members take responsibility for varied roles within the group or will it be a shared responsibility?
- How will problems and setbacks be handled?
- How will decisions be made?
- What decisions can be made by individual team members, what needs to be added to the meeting agenda and what needs to be taken to management?
- What expectations are going to be set in regard to acceptable behaviours?
- Is there a dress code?
- Are there any guidelines that need to be set around office etiquette?
How can I set team standards?
The most effective way to set team standards is to call a meeting of the entire team. As mentioned above, it is ideal to have someone from outside of the team to facilitate the discussion. A facilitator can keep the discussion moving so the team doesn’t focus too heavily on one particular issue. During this meeting you should discuss and brainstorm all items and issues that require a team standard to be created. Write them onto a large whiteboard or sheet of paper so that everyone can see them.
Your team is likely to have a long list of potential team standards. On review you may determine that several have similar meanings or convey the same message, so you can group these together. You may also find that some of the standards or issues are not important to the whole group or they need to be modified in order to be agreed on.
Once you have a set of standards that everyone in the group agrees to and is willing to commit to, you are able to record and distribute them in a single document. This is important as over time, it is easy for people to forget what was agreed. Some teams choose to display the standards in a prominent place to serve as a constant reminder.
These team standards should be reviewed from time to time to ensure they remain relevant. Clearly communicate the team standards to all new team members to ensure they are not only aware of the standards, but agree to operate within them.
Use this article in conjunction with many others in this section of our website to help you to build more effective and successful teams. You will find them grouped under the “Teams” section of the website.[/wlm_ismember]
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