Respectful behavior reduces (but doesn't eliminate) the incidence of toxic conflict among members of groups or teams. But since people don't always agree on what respectful means, groups or teams intent on preventing toxic conflict do better when they come to consensus about what respectful behavior is. Typically, this definition is developed as a list of behavioral norms.
Here are four guidelines for developing, propagating, and maintaining behavioral norms.
- Establish behavioral norms
- Unless we define acceptable behavior, unacceptable behavior is almost inevitable. But posting lists of what's acceptable and what isn't is ineffective. Behavioral norms must be developed by the group members themselves, and adopted by consensus.
- Disagreement about behavioral norms is one source of danger from frequent changes in team composition, which are common when people have multiple team assignments. When people haven't been involved in developing the team's behavioral norms, they don't feel ownership of the norms, and that depresses compliance rates.
- Include behavioral norms in the onboarding process
- When people join the group or team, be certain to include in their orientation a review of the behavioral norms. Devise some form of acceptance mechanism that compels a discussion of any norms the new group members aren't inclined to support.
- New group members bring new perspectives. The group must be willing to revisit the previously accepted behavioral norms when new members raise reasonable objections.
- Know how to handle violations
- Adopting behavioral Adopting behavioral norms is a step
forward, but what happens when one
or more of the norms is violated?norms is a step forward, but what happens when one or more of the norms is violated? Some norms coincide or overlap with organizational behavioral requirements. When these norms are violated, the procedures of the organization hold sway. That's the easy case.
- When group-specific norms are violated, the team or group must act. The team's sponsor can arbitrate, but the team and the offender must negotiate a resolution. Although this process can be complex and difficult, ignoring violations can generate even more difficulties. A pattern of repeated norm violations by a particular group member might constitute a performance issue. If a pattern emerges, seek the assistance of the individual's supervisor.
- Understand cultural differences
- When work groups include people from multiple cultures, difficulties can arise. Social norms can differ, and what "goes without saying" for people of one culture might need to be explicitly stated for people from another. And what seems acceptable to one might be taboo for another.
- Experience with your particular cultural mix is helpful in determining what group norms are needed. Changing the cultural mix might necessitate changing the norms.
One last suggestion. Collaborate with other teams to exchange insights. Exchanging with other teams any experiences, insights, or ideas for norms can accelerate group learning about what norms are most helpful. There's no point in replicating difficulties that other groups have already resolved. First in this series Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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