By Gavin Grift
We all know what it’s like being part of team meetings where someone always turns up late or skives off early. Meetings where colleagues turn up unprepared, talk over each other, or veer off-topic.
Without established team norms – or standards of professional behaviour – in place, any meeting can quickly descend into a waste of time and energy. And participants can be left sighing, rolling their eyes or sneakily checking their phones.
No one wants to be the ‘peer police’, so how can your school help encourage teams to have the professional dialogue, and sometimes-uncomfortable conversations, needed?
Why team norms are so important
If you genuinely want to develop people, team norms are one of the key things to focus on in any professional learning community (PLC).
So, what are team norms
Basically, they’re the set of professional behaviours that all staff commit to, creating a consistency that allows individual teams to operate effectively and efficiently.
What to consider when developing team norms
When establishing team norms, your team should tackle specific questions, such as:
What are we hoping to do? What should our professional practice look like? What would our students expect us to be able to do professionally if we’re going to meet their needs?
These aren’t always easy questions. But they need to be addressed.
In my experience, we sometimes have to name the elephant in the room and say, for example, talking over people is not OK. Disagreeing with people in an aggressive manner is not OK.
It’s important to note that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. The norms ultimately agreed to will depend on the unique collective personality of your team members.
You might also have broad norms that are common across the school.
Sticking to them
If you do have team norms, are they clear? Do people understand and live them on a day-to-day basis?
Do they clearly detail the expected behaviours, or are they wishy-washy?
Is there an agreed process to follow when norms are breached?
It’s important to make sure norms are formally reviewed regularly, and that they’re reinforced in every single meeting – even if it’s just for a minute or two.
If someone does breach the norms, it doesn’t always have to be a huge or complicated effort to get things back on track.
For example, I was recently working with a team where it was the principal regularly disrupting the meetings, and she realised this.
So the team developed a basic strategy. When the principal, or anyone else, went off on a tangent during a meeting, the others had permission to simply pick up the agenda and point to it.
This action was the nonverbal cue to say, ‘OK, got it. Let’s get back into it’.
Providing a safe space for tough conversations
Collaborative team meetings should be safe spaces for everybody to discuss issues related to curriculum, instruction and assessment, even if those conversations don’t always sit well with everyone.
But by establishing and sticking to the norms, you can solve tough problems – which might otherwise derail your school’s collaborative endeavours – in the most professional manner possible.