For a Successful Team, Pay Attention to Group Norms

There can be great wisdom in a team. In fact, groups are often able to make better decisions than any single individual. But there’s a caveat: only emotional intelligent teams can be this effective. 

Most of us, at some point, have encountered the other kind of team or group—the type that makes a person want to work alone. When a team is dysfunctional, decision-making, quality, and speed suffer. 

So it’s an urgent matter to figure out how to create a high performing team, and there’s no magic formula. There is, however, one important area leaders can focus on that, with effort and attention, will always improve a team: group norms. 

Everyone in a group contributes to its overall emotional intelligence level, but the norms strongly determine whether the team is high-performing, or simply a loose collection of people that work together. The norms help set the level for emotional intelligence, trust, group identity, and group efficacy. Norms dictate what feels right and how people act. Individuals have moods and needs, and so do groups.

What are the norms on your current team, or past teams? Are the members of the group treating each other respectfully? Is there comfort in sharing ideas? Are people expected to actively listen to one another? Is there a feeling of honesty and a welcoming of feelings? A welcoming of ideas? Or does the team lack these norms? 

A leader who wants a high-performing team needs to pay attention to, set, and hold productive norms, because emotions and attitudes are contagious. Some leaders walk in and ignore the power of group norms and pretend feelings don’t matter. The leader steam rolls the group, and the result is a toxic, rebellious environment. Some allow unhealthy group norms, which leads to simmering discontent and a lack of trust. The leader’s job on a team is more than balancing and meting out tasks; it is also about balancing relationships, and developing an ideal vision for the team or group for tomorrow and beyond.

Here are some areas for leaders to work on to create higher-performing teams with great EQ: 

Raising collective self awareness

Recognizing emotional dissonance (“I don’t like how it feels around here”)

Being attuned to and monitoring the emotional undercurrents of the group 

Observing team actions and listening carefully to what team members say. 

Making it a priority to understand what individuals and the group are feeling day-by-day

Uncovering less-productive norms, for example, disrespect, being closed off to new ideas, one person talking more than others, etc. 

Taking the lead on replacing those less-productive norms with more effective ones, such as expressing care for individuals and the group

Bringing the best emotional intelligence to the team

We often take norms for granted, but they are immensely powerful. It may seem like it takes time to shift these norms, but the outcomes are huge: increased happiness, productivity, creativity and more. Who wouldn’t want that for their team, and for their organization? 


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