Inventories: Seven Norms of Collaboration & Effective Meetings

Adapted from: Garmston, R., and Wellman, B. (2009) The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups, 2nd edition. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Seven Norms

The seven norms of collaboration are essential capacities and skills for high-performing groups. They operate within several practical frameworks that help groups to develop shared meaning and gracefully reach decisions.

The collaborative norms of the group have more influence on the possibility of success than do the knowledge and talents of the group facilitator. Thus, our staff development energies must go to groups, not to designated leaders of groups. We have found three components to be helpful in groups that achieve high levels of skills in the challenging talk that is required in professional communities:

  1. Overview. Provide groups with a rationale and information about two ways of talking (dialogue and discussion). Add details about the seven norms, the four capabilities of effective group members, the purposes of dialogue and discussion, and approaches to constructive conflict. This overview may create dissatisfaction with the current state of team and working-group performance and provide a glimpse of productive ways of working together.
  2. Inventory. Inventorying members’ perceptions of how the group uses the norms reveals beliefs about current operating practices. Groups can select one or two norms to develop and can establish monitoring systems to improve their use of the map and tools. Inventories can be simple rating scales, ranking personal and collective use of each norm, or more detailed questionnaires that explore the subsets of each norm.
  3. Monitor. Any group that is too busy to reflect on its work is too busy to improve. Every working group has many more tasks to do than time in which to do them and so is naturally reluctant to spend time monitoring and reflecting on its working processes. Many groups commit themselves to a task-process ratio to overcome this tendency; they budget a protected percentage of each meeting for examining how well the group is working and what it might do to improve.

Ways to Use the Seven Norms Inventories

Groups improve by reflection. The inventories listed below serve this purpose.

For personal skill development as both a facilitator and as a group member, “Norms Inventory: Rating the Consistency of My Personal Behavior,” serves as a starting point for self-assessment and goal setting. One useful approach is to select one skill at a time on which to work. Our basic mantra here is isolateoverlearn andautomatize. By seeking opportunities in daily communication experiences to practice a particular norm, you will be able to overlearn that tool so that is available to you when you need it the most in a meeting.

With groups in the early stages of development, “Norms Group Inventory: Rating the Consistency of Group Member Behavior,” can be filled out by individuals. Once completed, the form becomes the basis for dialogue about skill development and baseline data for goal setting for individuals and groups. We encourage groups to master one or two of the norms at a time rather than attempt to take them all on at once.

For intact groups with some history of working together, the form is best completed by subsets of the group. In twos and threes they can work through the form, rating the full group’s use of each norm. Each subset then compares its assessments with the other subgroups. Most groups discover that all members do not perceive meeting behaviors in the same way. This conversation leads to goal setting for individuals and groups.

The rating scale provides a useful vehicle for ongoing group assessment. Regular monitoring with reflective processing keeps the norms alive and motivates steady development.

Seven Norms Inventories

Effective Meetings

Meetings have a greater effect on organizational success than initially meets the eye. First, effective and time-efficient meetings produce work that is important to the school. Second, well-conducted meetings promote member satisfaction, the capacity to collaborate, and a willingness to conscientiously contribute. Third, the more successful groups are at getting important work done in meetings, the greater their collective efficacy, a resource that is undeniably linked to student success. Chapter 5 (The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups, 2nd edition) describes what members need to know and be able to do to have meetings that are productive, time-efficient, and satisfying. Finally, members of successful groups ultimately become members and leaders elsewhere and enrich the quality of work done by units within the school and the district. For these reasons, knowing how to produce work through meetings has become an essential part of a professional portfolio, regardless of an individual’s role.

Effective social structures honor the dynamic relationship of parts and bring them together into a workable whole. Since any group brings a variety of mental models, cognitive styles, personal histories, and individual agendas to its work, the potential for chaotic interaction always exists. Providing structures permits a full and focused expression of these differences in a manner that is useful to the work and life of the group.

The following four structures, taken together, guide groups to continuual success. Each addresses a significant question in the work life of groups:

  1. Who decides?
  2. What topics are ours?
  3. What meeting room features will support the work?
  4. What are the meeting standards?

Ways to Use the Meeting Inventory

Given group member knowledge of the four structures, have each person complete the inventory at the end of a meeting. One member collects the completed inventories and presents the results as the first item of the next meeting. Display the results in a graph showing the frequency of rated responses for each item. Pose the question: “Given this is what we said about ourselves at the last meeting, what do we want to work on today?”

Provide time for the responses to be studied. Work either as a full group or as small groups that report impressions to the whole. This process takes perhaps 3 minutes at the end of one meeting and anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes at the start of another and moves the group inevitably toward higher performance.

Effective Meetings Inventory