Examining Collaborative Team Meetings - Establishing and Reinforcing Norms

This posting is part of a series, aimed at sharing high-impact ideas and practices for consideration in relation to Collaborative Team Meetings.

I’m going to start this posting with a confession. I didn’t always believe in the importance of team norms. Although I had read a great deal of literature focused on collaboration and school teams that trumpeted the need for team norms, I thought that was only necessary in schools where individual staff members didn’t get along. Norms would not be needed in our school, as we were close as a staff team and had strong personal relationships throughout the building. Besides that, we were all professionals who wouldn’t need “rules” to know how to work together and act in teams. We already worked together so well!

I learned, as a young leader, how wrong my thinking was. It turns out that we did have a fantastic team who got along and worked well together overall. However, when we started to engage in meaningful collaboration, where staff members might not see eye to eye, and where debate was not only possible but a function of high performing teams, we found out we needed some clearly articulated “rules of engagement” that we could all agree upon. Prior to this, I witnessed staff members frustrated when one team member would frequently arrive late for meetings, or when a team member was constantly distracted by their phone during a team conversation. We occasionally saw a team member’s ideas disregarded if they did not fit the pedagogical schema of other team members, leading to disengagement from the process altogether. When these things happened, it was expected that someone (most likely the leader) would either need to step in to address the transgressions, or the team would just look the other way. The first response worked to erode relationships with leaders, while the second worked to erode the collaborative process. In short, we needed to move away from operating under assumptions. Instead, we needed commonly developed commitments or norms to clearly define how we agreed to engage in collaborative teams, and then work to reinforce understanding of what those norms looked like in practice.

Establishing Norms for Teams

In order to be meaningful, norms must be established collectively by a team. They can not be adopted from another school or developed by a leader or committee to be passed down to the staff. When we think about the layers of collaborative structures foundational to Collaborative Response, there are two considerations to keep in mind:

  • Separate norms for each collaborative team - when staff come together in regular collaborative planning teams, consider having each team establish their own norms that they mutually agree upon. Although a school may establish a set of common school norms (to guide actions in staff meetings, etc.), it is important that each individual team can then adjust those norms to fit their specific circumstances and what they believe to be important when working together. If collaborative planning teams are using a Collaborative Planning Guide, such as the sample shared below, include a space for them to include the norms they develop to guide their collective work (go to the Collaborative Planning Resources and Samples section to access more Team Planning Guides).

  • School set of norms for Collaborative Team Meetings - although individual teams may establish their own norms (or refine a collective school set of norms), a single set of team norms should be established for the school to guide all Collaborative Team Meetings. This reinforces that the Collaborative Team Meetings have a consistent focus and structure, regardless of individuals engaging. It also ensures that staff members involved in multiple Collaborative Team Meetings have a consistent set of operational standards in which to attend and understand. At Forestburg School, staff members commit to the FORCE for their Collaborative Team Meetings.

Establishing a set of team norms for a group of 2-5 team members is not a difficult task. However, establishing common norms for Collaborative Team Meetings for a large staff can take a higher degree of facilitation. The following process overview explains a protocol for the co-development of a set of shared norms with a larger group.

The following norms template can be used to document norms established for teams.

Reinforcing Norms

If the only thing that a school does is develop a set of norms but then never uses them, they will have very little impact at best but at worst, can lead to levels of disdain, if staff members witness actions that are in direct violation of team norms that are not addressed. There are several things to consider when it comes to reinforcing norms:

  • Visual display - ensuring norms are visible for team meetings is essential. Here are several ideas we’ve seen organizations employ to ensure norms are visually accessible:
    • Digital sharing - bringing up team norms digitally, on shared screens, projected or individually on computers to review. In this Collaborative Team Meeting video for a meeting conducted online, the norms are opened and shared at the start of the meeting for all to see.
    • Table displays - using simple free-standing picture displays (commonly found in dollar stores) to post team norms. A vertical display template (5x7) has been developed to assist in the creation of table display norms.
    • Tent cards - at Crestwood School, norms and the purpose of Collaborative Team Meetings are shared on one side of a tent card, the essential question “So, what are we going to do?” is displayed prominently on the other side

    • Posters - displaying a poster of team norms is another way to have the norms consistently on display for teams to reference.

  • Practice and Reinforcement - at the beginning of any meeting, selecting a norm upon which to explicitly focus (and possibly debrief at the conclusion of the meeting) is a powerful way to reinforce and practice norms, to really see them being lived during a team meeting.

The following compilation shows three different Collaborative Team Meetings where the norms are reviewed and then one is selected to "actualize" during the course of the meeting.

Here is a further list of ideas and strategies to support facilitators when picking a norm to actualize during a team meeting.

Leaders in Northern Gateway Public Schools and Medicine Hat Public School Division worked together to develop a repository of different ways to address and reinforce team norms, that provides a number of great considerations for school leaders (click on the image to access the resource).

  • Unpacking Team Norms - in time, it is important to be able to have staff understand why each norm is important, what it does and does not look like in action, and also to collectively agree what the response should be when a norm is not adhered to by a team member. An Unpacking Team Norms template has been developed to assist with this conversation, as well as examples from schools below who engaged in this work with their staff team.

Ekota School Staff Norms, Edmonton Public Schools

Rich Valley School Norm Examination Sample, Northern Gateway Public Schools

One characteristic of a high functioning team is the ability to engage deeply with one another, in order to establish and reinforce psychological safety amongst its members. Establishing and reinforcing team norms is a critical function that helps to define how we work together to ultimately bring out our collective best for our students.

I would love to see your school’s team norms and how you share and practice them amongst your staff team! Email me at kurtis.hewson(at)jigsawlearning.ca to share your story and samples!

Check out this podcast to learn more about the power of team norms!

Author: Kurtis Hewson