Defining team norms for high performance teams

By Elisabeth Goodman, 3rd June 2018

I’ve written a few blogs on the characteristics of high performance teams and how to evaluate them and summarised them in this one on my RiverRhee website (

Daniel Goleman et al’s “Teamwork: a primer”, number 11, in his “Building blocks of emotional intelligence” series, provides some additional helpful insights.

Every member of a team can positively influence its effectiveness

The first premise, which I absolutely endorse, is that “everyone who is part of a group can positively influence the team’s effectiveness through how they handle their participation in the group”.

Teamwork - a primer

In fact I would say that it is every team member’s responsibility to positively influence the team’s effectiveness.  As Goleman says, if other team members, or indeed the team leader, are not also doing this, then just one person’s positive behaviour may influence the others’.

The various co-authors of the primer stress how important it is for everyone on the team to have emotional intelligence.  And, that this is as important as technical and cognitive ability for the success of a team.

This combination of capabilities applies to the work within a team, as well as to collaborative work with stakeholders or with people outside of a team

The team leader sets the tone for teamwork

The team leader has a key role to play to set the tone for the team.  What they say and do will act as an example or role model, and absolutely influence what happens.  As Matthew Lippicott says, it is down to the leader to “clearly communicate, develop trust and provide performance-oriented feedback”.

As Vanessa Druskat says, a leader’s skill in setting the right tone is a feature of how well they balance their cognitive and emotional intelligence competencies.

There is lots more that a leader can do, as described in the next section.

Team norms for high performance teams

Vanessa Druskat describes team norms as “the habits, expectations and behaviours” of a team).

The following illustration is my summary of the five norms that I’ve picked out from “Teamwork: a primer”.

Team norms

The illustration shows how the leader can influence and support the team’s behaviour, as well as the part that each team member can play.

The authors of the primer have done a great job at identifying all of these aspects.  Their conclusions comes from studies of teamwork amongst MBA students, sports teams, a global engineering and construction firm, and other studies and findings in the literature.

To describe the norms in more detail:

  • Interpersonal understanding and caring (as described by Vanessa Druskat and Daniel Goleman) happens when the team members take time to understand each others’ strengths, weaknesses and attitudes. The leader sets the tone by demonstrating empathy and interest in each individual as opposed to being solely focused on the team’s efficiency.  People are alert to their colleagues feeling upset, left out, overwhelmed and take supportive action.
  • Diversity and inclusivity is described by Richard Boyatzis and Ann Flanagan Petry.  Team members help each other to participate fully for example by creating verbal space for others to express their views.  Individuals feel welcome and acknowledged by their colleagues.
  • Addressing counterproductive behaviour is described by Vanessa Druskat and Matthew Lippicott.  Here the leader needs to be able to moderate or control their empathy so that it does not get in the way of their being able to give tough feedback.  They also need to be able to address conflict. (See also my blog on the Conflict Management booklet in Daniel Goleman’s et al series: Conflict is the “lifeblood of high performing organisations”)
  • Effective accountabilities (also described by Vanessa Druskat and Matthew Lippicott) relies on the leader being able to clearly communicate their expectations, and everyone taking a proactive role to fulfill their accountabilities.  This norm will be enhanced by people being acknowledged and appreciated for their hard work.
  • Team self-evaluation (described by Vanessa Druskat) requires a leader to be open to suggestions for improvement (demonstrating vulnerability vs control).  Team members also need to have the opportunity and take the time to reflect on the team’s performance and how it could be improved.


Altogether, these ‘norms’ go across many of the 14 good team working practices that I’ve described elsewhere.

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

They form an excellent basis for evaluating and improving a team’s performance, and I will be adding them to the mix in RiverRhee’s work on building and developing teams!


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.