Importance of communication and task norms

Module 3 – Home


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Team Norms and Procedures

Modular Learning Outcomes


Upon successful completion of this module, the student will be able to satisfy the following outcomes:


•Case ◦Assess the importance of communication and task norms in guiding the way work is accomplished in teams.


•SLP ◦Identify and analyze communication and task norms in your own team.


•Discussion ◦Develop tips for virtual teams with your virtual team members.




Module Overview


If trust is the “social glue” that holds teams together, norms are the “social grease” that allows us to work together smoothly. Norms are the unwritten laws that govern behavior in groups of people. They tell us what to do, when, and how to do it. Typically, norms emerge over time, and they are shared by all who become members of the team. This is different in the case of virtual teams. Because of the lack of day-to-day interaction, norms in virtual teams must be more explicit, and rather than simply emerging though interaction, they are often consciously negotiated by the team early in its formative stage. When norms are violated or poorly understood, they can cause embarrassment, conflict, and misunderstandings.


There are two types of norms that will be discussed in this module: communication norms, which govern how information is shared, and task norms, which govern how the work itself is organized and monitored.


Communication Norms


Communication norms can be broken down into four types.


Availability norms establish when people will be accessible, and how quickly they will respond to team needs. These norms will determine how often people check communication venues, the appropriate timeframe for response, and boundaries between an individual’s work and personal time.


Appropriateness and use of collaboration tools norms ascertain what type of tools are used and for what purpose (see Module 3). They also cover rules of etiquette for using different types of tools.


Exchange norms determine when all members of the team should receive information, when just a subgroup should receive the information, or when it is preferred that individuals just communicate between themselves. Clear exchange norms can help prevent duplication and information overload.


Structure norms are concerned with whether formal or informal channels are preferred for different types of communication. Formal channels include scheduled meetings and teleconferences. Informal channels can include random e-mails and phone calls.


Task and Work Norms


Process norms set out a “lifecycle” for the team project. They insure that sufficient time is allocated to all stages of the team process—Idea Generation, Development, Finalization and Closure (see Module 1). Clear process norms help the team ensure that everyone will be working at the same stage, and facilitate assigning tasks and coordinating work.


Task norms help the team decide what is routine vs. nonroutine work. Routine work can be standardized and efficiency gained through the use of forms and templates. This frees up time and energy for nonroutine work where creativity and innovation is required.


Accountability norms set time frames for deliverables and establish consequences for failure to met obligations.


Resource norms shape how team members work on shared files. They control issues of work storage, updates, tracking, and security/confidentiality.


Review and approval norms influence how feedback is given, how often, and who has the authority to approve work. They often direct how often the group conducts “process checks” to review how well the team is doing at accomplishing its task in the most effective manner.




Module 3 – Background

Team Norms and Procedures

Background Reading


A growing amount of research is being conducted on the unique needs of virtual teams and the importance of establishing explicit norms to govern communication and project work. The following reading discusses some of this research and offers findings concerning critical norms that need to be established and supported by the appropriate IT (see Module 3). If you are not used to reading research articles, you can skim the section on “Theoretical Development,” skip the section on “Data Collection Methodology” (unless you have an interest in academic research methods) and concentrate on “Findings.” Be sure to check out the tables. They are helpful and will surely give you some ideas you can use in your Case analysis for this module.


Malhotra, A. and Majchizak, A. (2004). Enabling knowledge creation in far-flung teams: best practices for IT support and knowledge sharing. Journal of Knowledge Management, 8(4); pg. 75. This article is available in ProQuest.


In an attempt to create more productive work teams, many organizations engage in “team-building” workshops or exercises to bring members together so they can work together more effectively. Unfortunately, these team-building exercises, though sometimes fun and somewhat diverting, rarely have long-term effects as the esprit de corps that is developed during the workshop frequently fails to transfer to everyday team activity.


The following reading addresses how the process of establishing norms can serve as a substitute for relatively ineffective “team-building” activities.


McGannon, B. (2009). Stealth Team Building. Retrieved from


The following two readings give examples of specific norms that can help build highly effective teams.


Settle-Murphy, N. (2012). “Untangle your Virtual Team with 10 Most-Needed Norms.” Guided Insights online. Retrieved from:


Labrose, M. (2010) “6 Rules for Better Communication in Virtual Teams.” Computer World online. Retrieved from:


Case Reading (must read)


Karten, N. (2003). Creating Team Norms. Retrieved from


Optional SLP Reading


Team Norms. (2009). Retrieved from





Case 3/Module 3 – Case Assignment


Team Norms and Procedures



Assignment Overview


In this module, the comment was made that norms are implicit and tend to develop over time. However, it was also observed that virtual teams cannot afford the luxury of such a passive process and need to take proactive steps to establish explicit norms.


Case Assignment


In this Case, you are asked to consider ways a virtual team can explicitly establish communication and task norms that support high performance. The following reading provides some additional ideas for how a co-located team could an engage in norm-setting. You should model your action plan for virtual teams after this type of analysis.


Case Reading


Karten, N. (2003). Creating Team Norms. Retrieved August 2009 from


Assignment Expectations


For this Case, complete the following:

•Identify 10 specific behavioral norms (five communication and five task norms) that you feel are essential to the smooth performance of virtual teams.

•Explain why you feel these norms are essential.

•Propose a specific action plan virtual teams could use to develop and enforce task and communication norms.


Use the background readings to support your arguments.


Your paper will be evaluated using the following five (5) criteria:

•Assignment-Driven Criteria (Precision and Breadth): Does the paper fully address all Keys to the Assignment? Are the concepts behind the Keys to the Assignment addressed accurately and precisely using sound logic? Does the paper meet minimum length requirements?

•Critical Thinking (Critical Thinking and Depth): Does the paper demonstrate graduate-level analysis, in which information derived from multiple sources, expert opinions, and assumptions has been critically evaluated and synthesized in the formulation of a logical set of conclusions? Does the paper address the topic with sufficient depth of discussion and analysis?

•Business Writing (Clarity and Organization): Is the paper well written (clear, developed logically, and well organized)? Are the grammar, spelling, and vocabulary appropriate for graduate-level work? Are section headings included in all papers? Are paraphrasing and synthesis of concepts the primary means of responding to the Keys to the Assignment, or is justification/support instead conveyed through excessive use of direct quotations?

•Effective Use of Information (Information Literacy and References): Does the paper demonstrate that the student has read, understood and can apply the background materials for the module? If required, has the student demonstrated effective research, as evidenced by student’s use of relevant and quality (library?) sources? Do additional sources used in paper provide strong support for conclusions drawn, and do they help in shaping the overall paper?

•Citing Sources: Does the student demonstrate understanding of APA Style of referencing, by inclusion of proper end references and in-text citations (for paraphrased text and direct quotations) as appropriate? Have all sources (e.g., references used from the Background page, the assignment readings, and outside research) been included, and are these properly cited? Have all end references been included within the body of the paper as in-text citations?


This should be a 4- to 5-page paper and can be turned in by the end of the module.

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