There was a period when tech companies expanded at a rapid speed. Team size doubles every year. I joined a team during this rapid growth period. At first, there were 12 of us. We know each other well. We understand how we work; we know how to communicate with each other. We know when to send an email or when to ping people over Slack.
One day, we started to see things were not going as smoothly. A Slack ping did not get returned for hours. And discussions get lost in Slack or email. What happened?
The team got big.
People have different working hours; we did not know who is on at what time. There were other obligations and challenges in day-to-day activities. We expanded to 5 different time zones. Many new team members have yet to have a chance to talk one-on-one regularly.
That’s when we conducted a Team Norming exercise.
You probably heard about Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing model. Not to confuse this exercise with it. This team norming establishes a common understanding and decides how we work together.
So, with this exercise, we gain an understanding of many basics about each member. And as a team, we made some decisions. For example, instead of expecting everyone to be online 9-5 headquarters time, we established a 4-hour core hours when all team members committed to be online. We prioritize the core hours for urgent needs and quick team discussions. As a team, we agree that outside the core hours, response time can be slower.
Another understanding that came out of the team norming exercise is an understanding of communication style. When and in what format to give feedback? As a team, we also made the decision when to use chat, when to email the team, etc.
Furthermore, the exercise inspired the team to run a different activity: create a personal manual.
Why do it?
After the team is formed, team members begin to work through their differences, to lean about their colleagues and begin to appreciate them and learn to respect the role and authority of their team leader.
When to do it?
A norming exercise can be held at the early stage when new team members get together forming a team, it also can be used as a refresher when new member(s) join the team.
What supplies are needed (if in person)
Small sticky notes
Painter’s tape (for making grid)
How to use this method
Suggested time: 30 minutes (team size <=8)
Participants: All team members
Sample agenda and prompt:
- Warm up / Ice breaker / Context purpose of this exercise (2~5 minutes)
- Scilent writing (7~10 minutes)
Have each team member fill out the sections one statement per sticky note
- Silent read and questions (2-5 minutes)
Silent read and ask clarifying questions
- Discussion (10 minutes)
As a team establish some common understand (e.g. When is a core time for the team to commit etc)
The team can identify what we can agree now, what we need to think about or investigate
- Wrap up