The Virtual Team Norms and Procedures

¶ … Team Norms,” author Karten (2003) discussed the importance of social norms in improving performance in teams within a business organization. Technically, Karten defined it as a concept “that concern(s) how team members will interact, communicate, and conduct themselves as members of the team” (par. 1). Moreover, team norms are reinforced primarily in groups with specific characteristics, such as those who are known to have high perceived social cohesion and performance within the team or group (Patterson, 2005:482). It is in these conditions that team norms are introduced, promoted, and instilled in team members.

The development and establishment of team norms are not just dependent on group characteristics, but also on the value system established within the team. This system puts value to specific beliefs determined within the team, and each member’s perceived value for each belief would then determine the development of this belief to a shared belief or norm.

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Value and belief systems within a team or group can be reinforced through social cohesion and explicit demonstration of the members’ performance in the group. This would have been easily facilitated in teams within business organization who “physically” interact with each other. The case for virtual teams, despite their seemingly weak or lack of an organic / physical presence in the organization would be the same for non-virtual teams. However, it is especially critical for virtual teams to identify specific communication and task norms and clearly install and smoothly integrate them within virtual teams to make the establishment of these norms similar to the development of norms in “naturally-occurring” and constantly (physically) interacting teams. The texts that follow identify and recommend five communication and five task norms that are essential to the smooth performance of virtual teams.

Building trust and establishing shared beliefs in a virtual team can be challenging when the participants/members are not constantly interacting in a specific venue or “platform.” However, virtual teams can optimize the functions of Internet technology to liken online or virtual interactions close to (if not similar) to face-to-face interactions. This is why according to Kirkman (2002), communication is a very essential component wherein norms must be established for virtual teams to truly mimic the natural formation of norms within the team. The five communication norms that will help virtual teams efficiently establish their norms within the group are: (1) listening; (2) responding; (3) following through / feedback; (4) recognition of performance; and (5) recognition of all perspectives.

Listening and responding are key communication norms that must be established clearly in a virtual team. Because online interactions tend to be dependent on audio-visual information received through the technology, there are nuances in face-to-face interactions that cannot be accounted for in online interactions, specifically non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, concept of personal space and even haptics (communicating through touch). Moreover, in communication, listening has become a very essential skill that team members and communicators must have to ensure that issues are resolved. Issue resolution is a critical element contributing to the improvement of social cohesion within the team; social cohesion, meanwhile, bring about strengthen team belief in norms established in the organization.

Following through with specific member concerns or issues, recognizing different perspectives of team members, and recognizing the team members themselves are additional communication norms that must be instilled in virtual teams to facilitate the strong imprint of the team’s norms within each member/individual. These communication norms will respond to the need of team members to not feel detached and isolated from their own team, considering the nature of virtual teams (Kirkman, 2002:par. 25). Technology must be optimized to include applications that would make interactions among the members of the virtual team more interactive and real-life. Managers or leaders of these virtual teams must use efficiently simulated technologies to facilitate the smooth transmission and enactment of these communication norms. Without an efficient technology running among virtual teams, communication norms that seek to recognize the team members, their performance, and their issues will be rendered weak or at times, meaningless.

Task norms must be implemented as well as a complement to the communication norms of virtual teams. Not unlike communication norms, the task norms must also mimic naturally-occurring interactions and transactions that take place in “real life.” Task norms to be established should be the following: (1) taking ownership of one’s role and responsibilities; (2) exertion of effort in performing one’s role in the team; (3) person-job and person-team fit; (4) flexibility; and (5) sensitivity to the needs of other team members.

The first and second task norms, taking ownership and exertion of effort in job performance are norms that are commonly implemented in all organized teams, whether these teams are virtual or not virtual. Third to fifth task norms, meanwhile, are especially important in virtual team management because of their specificity to the nature of interaction among members. In a virtual team, the member’s fit to the job is not the only determinant in promoting team norms; more importantly, the person’s fit to the team is sometimes the major and only determinant that will help the successful establishment of a team’s norms. Further, team members must exercise flexibility because of the varying nature of communication that occurs in online interaction: textual only, audio-visual, or a combination of textual-audio-visual. Lastly, sensitivity to the needs of other members is a required norm because virtual teams have a “low-touch” interaction level, therefore there is a constant need to affirm and re-affirm to the virtual team a member’s feelings and issues.

Given these proposed communication and task norms in virtual teams, there is a need to develop an action plan to effectively implement these norms. It is suggested that communication norms be developed as a “credo” that members must adhere to. Similarly, task norms must be the team’s work ethic principles that they must know and imbibe as they go through their daily work and interactions as virtual teams. Both strategies will help institutionalize these norms. To further encourage institutionalization of these norms, members must take part in memorizing and constantly reminding each other about these communication and task norms as part of their daily work, especially when interacting or engaging with other virtual teams.


Karten, N. (2003). “Creating team norms.” StickyMinds Website. Available at:

Kirkman, B. (2002). “Five challenges to virtual team success: Lessons from Sabre, Inc.” Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 16, Issue 3.

Nesdale, D. (2005). “Group norms, Threat, and Children’s Racial Prejudice.” Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.

Patterson, M. (2003). “The influence of team norms on the cohesion of self-reported performance relationship: a multi-level analysis.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Vol. 6.

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