In my work as a school board superintendent, I had the great privilege of leading and participating with many teams. Consistently investing time on the front end to clarify the why, what, and how of our work was well worth the time. Team members need to be clear about the purpose for which the team exists (the why), the nature of the work to be completed including a timeframe and means by which success will be measured (the what), and expectations for respectful and productive collaboration (the how).
In my experience, the why, what, and how of an organization function like a tripod – the team will only perform as well as its weakest leg! In one case, I worked for several years with a team that was clear enough about why they came together on a weekly basis and what was expected of them in terms of the work that needed to be accomplished. However, member enjoyment (and, therefore, productivity) was compromised because of a lack of consideration for establishing a meaningful agreement about how we would function together.
While there were many days when the group performed well together, there was a never-ending cloud of uncertainty about when the dysfunctionality would manifest itself. Performance was sometimes hindered by an unwillingness to talk about what was plainly evident. Group members were not able to do their best work because of fear and sporadic instances of disrespect and incivility.
Do members of your team, division, or organization explicitly know what is expected in terms of how they will work together?
With subsequent changes in leadership and an aspiration to improve in our capacity to work together, we were able to ask the important question, “How are we going to function so that everyone can enjoy their work, feel motivated, and work for the collective good of the organization and for each other?”
With a clean slate and the wonderful opportunity to decide how we would function as a group, we took the time to craft a “Meeting Norms” agreement in which we stated explicit expectations for all meeting participants. It was decided that the documented value statements would be posted at every meeting, frequently referenced, and subject to further review and revision.
Following my retirement, it was a delight to visit with the group and see a framed copy of the most recent version of the agreement sitting in the middle of the meeting room table. Despite the weight of the team’s responsibility and the demanding nature of their work, I could see that they enjoyed each other’s company and each had a genuine interest in their individual and collective well-being. It was just as satisfying to hear the report of significant performance improvements that were a direct result of their work together. Further conversation led to a reflection on the important role the “Meeting Norms” document had played in creating a safe, respectful, enjoyable workspace where individuals and the group could collectively flourish.
Here are the cherished, collaboratively established, and frequently referenced “Meeting Norms”:
Think always – “What is best for students?”
Treat all members and guests with respect by encouraging diverse opinions to be shared without interruption – everyone has a voice.
Identify and include absent voices.
Speak your truth, without blame or judgement.
Be fully present as others are speaking.
Assume positive intentions.
Commit to developing common understandings to ensure coherence in messaging.
Promote a spirit of curiosity, inquiry, and collaboration. Listen to understand, and ask questions for clarification.
When you feel bias has impacted our work, connect with another member of the team to discuss in order to gain understanding.
Perhaps your team would come up with a completely different list. Perhaps the meaning of some of the statements seems unclear or vague? Remember, it is the open conversation about what to include, the clarification of what is meant, and the openness to view the document as “living” and subject to change that gives it power.
Do members of your team, division, or organization explicitly know what is expected in terms of how they will work together? Consider investing time in developing a “Meeting Norms” agreement that will assist members in articulating and clarifying their collective vision for creating a productive and enjoyable working environment for all participants.
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