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Tips & Lessons for 2022: It's Never Too Late to Rethink a Norm

The Lesson:

With remote and hybrid work, we're all using different tools in different ways. Even if you've been working a certain way since the initial shift-to-remote in 2020, it's okay to raise your hand and say "hey, wait, can we do this differently?"

An Anecdotal Case for Resetting

Since shifting to remote work, my team has always posted a quick "good morning" message in our slack channel when we're starting our day and sharing our top priority for that day. We also post as we're in-and-out of availability, running to an appointment or taking a lunch break. The purpose of these posts isn't to track time; it was just to give a general idea for our closest collaborators of when we're around vs. when we're busy. 

But, then a few of us adopted dogs (as did many folks during the pandemic). And our slack channel blew up with well-intentioned, norm-compliant "I'm running the puppy out, back in 10!" several times an hour. 

Our team had also set the norm that slack messages should be treated more urgently than emails, so these pings interspersed with real urgent messages were extremely distracting. But, at the same time, we had agreed as a team that letting people know when you're unavailable was a "best practice."

I don't remember who raised their hand to say that we didn't need this level of detail and accountability, but I'm grateful to them. We had set a rule that worked really well for our team — until it didn't.

How to Re-Set a Norm

Asking to reset a norm will depend on the structure of your team. If your team is small and self-organized, without a clear leader (ie: my company has a peer group of all the writers), bringing your suggestion up as an agenda item may be the most appropriate. If your team has a clear leader (like my boss's team of direct reports in the slack channel I mentioned above) it might be most appropriate to share your idea with the leader of that group first.

In either conversation, you should do the following:

  1. Explain the original agreement/norm and its positive intention.
    This ensures that your team is on the same page, has the correct context for the norm, and sets the conversation that follows on your team's broader goals (ie: increased productivity, improved collaboration).

    Example: A few months ago, we set up a daily 15-minute meeting to share what we're all working on. One of the goals of this meeting was to increase collaboration by giving everyone the chance to ask for help.
  2. Share your perception of the current effect of the norm or why you think this norm no longer supports your team.
    Use statements about your own experience rather than assuming that everyone feels the same way. Try to focus on how you're working toward the team's goal — this will prevent a "complaining" tone.

    Example: I've noticed that when I need help, I don't wait until this meeting to ask for a hand. I also don't remember being asked for help during this meeting over the past few weeks, but I know that I've gotten help when I need it or chipped in on the side when asked.
  3. Provide your suggestion for a new norm or what you would consider an ideal way to work.

    Example: I think we have a great team culture where people feel comfortable reaching out directly to someone when they need help. We might not need this meeting anymore, if that's how everyone is comfortable working.
  4. Ask your teammates how they're feeling.

    Example: Does anyone get a lot of value out of this daily meeting? I might be the only one feeling this way.
  5. Listen!
    Your teammates may have different opinions. If you feel strongly that something isn't working for you, but others appreciate that way of working, it may be appropriate to ask for permission to individually deviate from the norm. You could also ask to revisit the norm in several weeks to make sure it's still working for people.

    Example: It sounds like I might be the only one who doesn't find this meeting valuable. I do want to reclaim some calendar time — would it be okay if I only attended on Mondays and Thursdays? I want everyone to know that they can ping me anytime they need help, too!

Why it Matters Now

In the Spring of 2020, many teams had to quickly switch to remote or hybrid work arrangements without much time to consider process and norms. Now, it's clear that "back to normal" doesn't mean a complete rewind to how we were working two years ago. If you've been "putting up with" something or waiting for another huge catalyst to start working differently, we've seen that it might not be on the way! 

And, with all the New Year energy flowing throughout the month of January, it's a great time to talk about ways to improve your working style or habits. Use the timeliness of the new year to set some new norms that fit all the audacious goals your team is setting.

Up for Discussion

What norms has your team established in the past two years?

Are there any processes, habits, or routines that really bug you right now?

Have you changed a team norm recently? How'd it go?

7 comments

Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 11, 2022

@Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy wow, this one really hit home. You just helped me set the script for a discussion I need to have with my team members regarding resetting our team meeting cadence in 2022. Thanks for the inspiration. Please know that when I plagiarize your work, it will be the highest form of flattery!

@Andy Gladstone That is a fantastic compliment, thank you. Steal my work anytime! And, best of luck finding a better cadence and norm for your team. :)

Big fan of this suggestion, @Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy. I like the reminder that questioning the status quo can/should be done in a team setting so that evolving ways of working among teams are developed by teams. Such a simple idea and I often don't think about it because sometimes my first reaction is that no one else will want to go on that journey with me.

Thanks @Christine P_ Dela Rosa ! Your comment reminded me that I didn't really cover the fact that sometimes our working norms just "show up" without any intention or conversation — just figuring things out as we go. Those "unstated" norms are maybe more likely to need some rework and being intentional about how you want to handle day-to-day tasks could be a good higher-level tip for some teams.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this
Jaime Netzer Atlassian Team Jan 13, 2022

Thanks for this post, @Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy - it is as insightful as it is actionable!

Thanks for sharing this @Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy , very insightful. Seems like a good structure to help avoid complacency. I could imagine how helpful it would be to step back and try to identify those 'norms' at some regular interval - quarterly, when a new person joins the team, etc.

@Monica Morris I like the idea of revisiting specific norms or creating a specific space that allows people to raise any concerns (ie: asking if anyone has ideas or feedback at the first meeting of every month). I think a lot of people do this after the holidays as part of the "New Year" buzz, but once a year definitely doesn't seem frequent enough! 

I recently changed a meeting from biweekly to weekly — we had some major cross-functional projects and our biweekly meeting kept running long (+ hard-to-follow email conversations swirling during the off-week). But, I didn't want the meeting to be weekly by default, so I only scheduled the weekly occurrence for a few months to force me to revisit the frequency we need once we get those projects out the door.

Like Monica Morris likes this

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