“Our problem is not to find better values, but to be faithful to those we profess.”
– John W. Gardner
Core Values are the foundational to shaping the behaviors of an individual, a team, and an organization. They influence all our actions, relationships, and work, whether we are aware of them or not. As the above quote suggests, our values are often not the problem; the problem comes when our actions do not align with what we claim to believe. In an organizational setting, prolonged misalignment leads to frustration, decreased job satisfaction, and interpersonal conflict. To avoid misalignment of values and actions, it is helpful for teams and groups to establish a set of mutually agreed upon behavioral norms.
The 411 on Behavioral Norms
What exactly are behavioral norms and why are they important? Behavioral Norms are specific behaviors that support the group’s values. Behavioral norms are based on the core values set forth by the group or organization and serve as guides that inform members as to which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
How are behavioral norms set and upheld?
To be truly effective, the Team must work together over time to identify and establish their norms. This allows for all members to weigh in on which norms are most important and the situations they will need to be exemplified. Co-creating norms gives the team a chance to think ahead about what ought to happen if members fail to adhere to these norms.
Behavioral norms are upheld through sanctions, the consistent enforcement and reinforcement by the team or organization. Sanctions are the accountability piece, and all members of the team are responsible for holding each other to their word. Without sanctions, norms drift and values change, resulting in a misaligned culture.
Having norms in place and holding each other accountable to them is crucial to effective collaboration. The existence of this “social contract” ensures that team members will consistently exhibit behaviors that align with the achievement of team goals and objectives.
How to Set Behavioral Norms
Once core values are clearly identified and articulated, guide your team in brainstorming ideas for behavioral norms/expectations. Then organize them according to each core value. Make sure each statement includes an action verb so that members understand what is expected. Then publish, distribute, revisit, and reinforce them in as many ways as you find helpful over time. Once is never enough. Make that a norm too.