Skip to main content

Facilitating Through the Storm: The Importance of Interpersonal Norms

November 25, 2020 7:51 pm

Now that many teams have been working remotely for months with no immediate plans for change, it may be time to take a closer look at what is working and what might be getting in the way of the team performing at its highest level. Failure to deal with building resentments or dysfunctional behaviors can drastically reduce the quality of interaction, collaboration and morale of the team. This in turn typically impacts productivity and relationships amongst team members.

One of the most important conversations I lead when I am working with a client to better align their team involves defining their interpersonal operating guidelines. It is critical that the team defines this together to build buy-in and ensure all members understand the types behaviors that will best serve them as a team.

The following is a process you can use to facilitate an inclusive, engaging meeting around defining or redefining your team’s interpersonal norms or guidelines.

Step 1: Review the interpersonal norms/guidelines below one at a time. Then have each team member, including you, articulate why they believe the specific norm should be adopted by the team. For example: Paraphrasing others ensures that they feel heard which reduces their need to repeat themselves and then increases their receptivity to consider other’s ideas. Or, ‘acknowledging others’ emotions’ could diffuse a potentially negative situation, etc.

Suggested Interpersonal Norms/Guidelines:

  1. Paraphrase/acknowledge the other person’s views and emotions prior to sharing your own
  2. Ask questions to clarify the other person’s message; their rationale behind their view and their assumptions
  3. Share your relevant opinions, thoughts and feelings
  4. Ask others to summarize their message
  5. Ask for differing views and opposing information
  6. Come with a complaint/problem and at least three possible means of mitigating it
  7. When we disagree, first state specifically with what I agree, then with what I disagree
  8. When delivering constructive feedback share specifically what the person did and its impact
  9. Accept constructive feedback from others and don’t offer excuses

Step 2: Once the above list is completed, ask if there are any additional norms required that have been missed. Again, ensure the group explains why they should be adopted. Ensure that any new norm that is chosen is ‘concrete’ as opposed to being vague or non-specific. For example, if someone suggests, ‘Be respectful’, ask: What we would be doing and/or saying if we were being respectful?

Step 3: Test for agreement using the High Five Technique. Ask for each person to put up the number of fingers on one hand to indicate the degree to which they can “live with” and support, outside this meeting, the team’s Interpersonal Norms:

1 finger = I can’t

2 fingers = I probably could but many changes will be required

3 fingers = I can with a few tweaks

4 fingers = I can support and “live” with it

5 fingers = I can wholeheartedly!

Step 4: If anyone in the group raises less than 4 fingers, ask: What would it take to get you to a 4? Work with this person and the rest of the group to come to agreement on required changes. Once this is done retake the High Five to ensure that everyone contributed and had a voice and can “live with” the norms. Conclude with the expectation that they will each hold each other accountable for the follow-through on these meeting norms going forward.

This content is drawn from one of our Virtual Facilitator Micro-Workshops. To learn more about this or any of our other workshops, e-mail [email protected].


Let us Know

Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!