Using the Tools

Introducing the Norms

Man pointing to easle that reads "Norms"“One common method for introducing the Norms of Collaboration is to create a shared reading process, using the annotated edition that defines and exemplifies the norms. Group members then engage in reflective conversations about the reading, in pairs or table groups, guided by questions such as the following.

  • “What personal connections are you making with this set of norms?”
  • “Which of these norms might be most important for your full participation in a group?”
  • “Considering these seven norms, which might you find most challenging?”
  • “Given your selection, what strategies might you use to focus on this/these?”

Posting the Norms

Once the Norms of Collaboration are introduced, facilitators often post them, creating a third point source of habits for the group. Consider the facilitator to be the first point, the group to be the second point. The norms text in poster form serves as a third point, separate from each of the others. This provides psychological safety for the group to talk about the norms independent of the facilitator: their source is separate and clear for all to see.

Sustaining Engagement with the Norms

In addition, experienced facilitators often provide each individual with a copy of the annotated edition of the Norms, and request that they bring them to each meeting. An additional reminding strategy is to provide each table with a master copy at each meeting, which members see as they arrive. Effective groups address the Norms as part of opening and closing most meetings. Opening activities often ask individuals or groups to select one or two norms for particular focus during the session. Closing activities may ask individuals to reflect on decisions they made regarding the focus norm(s), and effects they observed.

Assessing Consistency with the Norms

(Decorative) 3-star review Norms Inventory: Rating the Consistency of My Personal Behavior in a Specific Group of Which I am a Member

There is no such thing as group behavior. All ‘group behavior’ results from the decisions and actions of individuals. When individual choices align in productive patterns, the group generates positive results (Garmston and Wellman, 1999, p. 33).” Group development is enhanced as individual group members become more conscious of and skillful with the behaviors that comprise the Norms of Collaboration.

This tool guides individual group members in assessing analytically the consistency with which they practice the behavior that is promoted by each of the seven norms. The Inventory includes twenty-one behaviors, three for each of the seven norms, asking that individual participants rate themselves as members of a specific group that a facilitator names – perhaps the present group, or others in participants work sites.

Solo Use

“The personal behavior inventory may be used on its own, “solo,” when the facilitator’s purpose is to enhance the identified group’s functioning by focusing individual members on their behavioral choices in the group. In this case, the facilitator asks each group member to complete an Inventory, per its instructions – naming the specific group. Pairs or table groups then reflect on such questions as,

“What are you noticing about your perceptions?”

In some circumstances, a facilitator may want the group to reflect on the behavior of a specific norm or two – for example paraphrasing, so the inquiry might be,

"What were you paying attention to as you rated yourself on each of the types?”

Either of these might be followed with a growth-focused question, such as,

“What strategies might you use to increase your consistency ratings?”

Combining Solo with Group Use

The personal behavior inventory may also be combined with the tool called Checking Personal Consistency / Summarizing Personal Ratings. After individuals complete their personal behavior inventories, they summarize their results by estimating the average of the three scores for each norm, marking their averages on a copy of Checking Personal Consistency / Summarizing Personal Ratings. This permits ensuing conversation to include both behavioral references from the personal behavior inventory, as well as more general reference to the norms from the summarized, or averaged, scores. A common guiding question for either pairs or table groups is,

“What are you noticing about the consistency with which you are practicing the Norms of Collaboration?”

This might be followed with a growth-focused question, such as,

“What might be important ways for you to increase your consistency ratings?”

(Decorative) 3-star review Norms Inventory: Rating the Consistency of Group Member Behavior

This tool guides individual group members, the group as a whole, and table groups when these are present, in assessing the consistency with which group members practice the behaviors that are associated with the seven Norms of Collaboration.

Solo Use

The Group Member Behavior Inventory may be used on its own – by a work group, a table group in a larger group context, or a large group – when the facilitator’s assessment is that the group’s productivity will be enhanced by individual members taking a group perspective on the behavior of all of the individual members, at the analytic level. The focus is behavioral; the attention is on the “we” of the group. The facilitator asks each member to complete a Group Member Behavior inventory per its instructions. Pairs or table groups then reflect on questions such as,

"What are you noticing in your data about the group’s members?”

“What meaning might you be making, as you consider your data about the group?”

Combining Solo with Group Use – At the Table

A. "The Group Member Behavior Inventory may also be used with the tool for Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings, when the facilitator’s assessment is that the group would benefit from viewing the members’ data at the normative level – in contrast to the behavioral level above. When individuals have completed their Group Member Behavior inventories, each summarizes their data by estimating the averages of their ratings on a Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings tool. In this process, each group member collates data individually. The facilitator may then ask that pairs or table groups reflect on their data about how consistently the norms are practiced in the group. A common guiding question is,

"What observations are you making about the group members’ practice of the norms?”

B. "The facilitator’s assessment may be that the group would benefit from considering its members’ data in a format in which all of the information is included in a single view. In such cases, the facilitator may ask the group to combine the norms data of each individual on a single Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings tool. Members mark their respective estimated averages on a group copy of the tool, each in a different color. The facilitator may guide reflection on these data with questions such as,

"What are your observations about the group’s perceptions?”

The facilitator might follow this with a growth-focused question such as,

"What norm(s) might the group focus on, to increase its productivity and satisfaction?”

"Given the potential of focusing on (a norm), what strategies might group members use to accomplish this?”

At this point, the facilitator may choose to ask the group to commit to a specific focus of improvement, based on this conversation. In this event, it is important that the facilitator return to the commitment toward the conclusion of the meeting, to provide group members with an opportunity to reflect on the results of their improvement focus.

Combining Solo with Group Use – On the Wall

"A facilitator may make the assessment that a group’s purpose(s) may be served, and/or its productivity increased, by public consideration of its norms data. This can be accomplished in at least two ways. In both, the norms data of the group are posted on the wall. This has the effect of distancing the data from the group to a third point, which can increase the psychological safety to engage in conversation about the data.

A. This process is a variation on Combining Solo and Group Use – At the Table, described above. Instead of combining the individuals’ norms data onto a single Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings tool in its standard size, each group is provided with a piece of chart paper. The facilitator asks that a recorder in each group recreate the scales of the Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings tool on the chart paper, in black. Members then mark their respective estimated averages on the chart edition of Checking Group Member Consistency / Summarizing Member Ratings tool, using a different color for each member. The facilitator then guides consideration of the data with inquiries similar to those above.

B. "A facilitator may use this opportunity to create a more structured study of group data. This can be done by following the process described in 1, just above, with the following addition.

"The facilitator introduces the process of Here’s What!, So What?, Now What? to guide the group’s consideration of the data. This process uses a three-column protocol, illustrated below. The intention is to support a group in describing what they see in the data (Here’s What!), then and separately considering the meanings of the data (So What?), and finally what actions the group might take (Now What?). This process is particularly helpful to groups that need to learn to observe data, separately from assigning meaning, and to hold off on action planning until their study of the data is complete. More extensive description and explanation of this process and others related to the study of data can be found in Data-Driven Dialogue (Wellman and Lipton, 2004).

Here’s What! So What? Now What?

Norms Inventories: Introductory Applications

The applications of the norms inventories described above begin with individuals rating their personal consistency or that of group members analytically, at the behavioral level. The behavioral perceptions data may then be averaged to yield summaries at the level of the seven Norms.

Beginning with behavioral ratings permits highly focused conversation, which a facilitator may assess to be of particular importance in advancing a group’s effectiveness. It also calls for significant knowledge about each of the norms, such as the three purposes for paraphrasing – to acknowledge and clarify, to summarize and organize, and to shift levels of abstraction. It also calls for a significant investment of group time, ever in short supply in school settings.

Assessing consistency with the Norms can also begin at the normative level, as early as when a group first becomes familiar with the Norms. Facilitators find this approach useful for introducing self-assessment early in the process of learning and applying the Norms, with groups that are not yet fully versed in the key concepts and behaviors associated with the Norms, and when time is at a premium.

Using Checking Personal Consistency/ Summarizing Personal Ratings for Introductory Assessment

After introducing the Norms (Section 1), the facilitator invites each participant to estimate levels of personal consistency with the tool for Checking Personal Consistency / Summarizing Personal Ratings. This may be done individually only (see Section 4.1a), supported by pairs or table group conversation.

It may also be extended into combining the individual data into a group display and conversation (see Section 4.1b). This might also be extended to posting the group’s data, as in section 5.2c. Facilitators often use such a public third point display of the data to inform a group’s conversation about which norm or two the group might focus on to improve its members’ consistency and the group’s performance.

As groups construct deeper knowledge and more become more consistent in their use of the Norms, experienced facilitators often increase the specificity of subsequent self-assessment activities by shifting to the Rating the Consistency of My Personal Behavior… tool, described in section 4.1 above.

Guidelines and Considerations

Using the Consistency Scales

One scale is used repeatedly in all of the rating tools.Clipboard with "Guidelines" written on it

Low High

The scale is designed for flexibility and estimation. Facilitators encourage group members to use the scale to best reflect their perceptions. The numbers on the scale describe ranges (1, 2, 3, 4). One member’s perception may be a “low 2.” This person would make a mark somewhere to the left of the number 2 and to the right of the crossbar below it. Another member may perceive a “high 3.” The corresponding mark would be placed to the right of the number 3 and to the left of the crossbar above it. Facilitators may find it helpful to advise group members to not over-think their responses; one’s first inclination is likely to be important.

Estimating Averages

“Given the flexibility of the consistency scale, precise mathematical calculation of averages would not be suitable. Facilitators should be explicit about this, and be prepared to support group members who are accustomed to considering numbers only with calculator in-hand.

Working Agreements Complement the Norms

The Norms of Collaboration are based on decades of research and practice in the fields of counseling, coaching, group dynamics, facilitation, and professional learning communities. They constitute best practice throughout these fields, with results documented in both education (Kennedy, A., Deuel, A., Nelson, T, and Slavit, D. “Requiring Collaboration or Distributing Leadership?” Phi Delta Kappan, Vol, 92, No. 8, 2011, pp. 20-24) and business (Losada, M. and Heaphy, E. “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamic Model,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 47, No. 6, 2004, pp. 740-765).

Working Agreements, on the other hand, are specific to a group. They define the expected behavior among group members in areas that the members decide will support their effectiveness in reaching important outcomes. Like the Norms of Collaboration, they are based on beliefs, values, and consensus among group members. An experienced facilitator assesses when to engage a group in defining areas that call for the support of Working Agreements, and in developing the language that the group’s members support.

In some situations, the Working Agreements may be for long-term use by the group, in which case they are posted alongside the Norms of Collaboration. Under other circumstances, they may be developed for a specific meeting. Common themes addressed by Working Agreements are focus on the topic-at-hand, respecting all members’ points of view, starting and ending on time, and being prepared for meetings.

Working Agreements become effective as the members of a group engage in their development, and regularly self-assess to assure that group members’ behavioral choices and decisions align with the Agreements. They are not called for in all groups. Experienced facilitators learn to observe and interpret the performance of a group’s members, as the basis of a decision to engage the members in developing Working Agreements. It is essential that the processes for developing and supporting them engage members in ways that build shared ownership.

Consistent Attention to the Norms of Collaboration and Working Agreements

Group productivity and satisfaction increase with growth in the consistency with which group members practice the behaviors that are associated with the Norms of Collaboration and the group’s Working Agreements. The Norms are intended for use among group members both in meetings and in general, whereas Working Agreements pertain to members’ behavior in the group’s meetings. Realizing the collaborative potential of the Norms and Working Agreements requires consistent and repeated attention. Facilitators develop a repertoire of ways to address the Norms and the group’s Agreements, so that this can become a regular opening and closing event at most or all group meetings.”

© 2006 Center for Adaptive Schools. Compiled and adapted by Ratnesh Nagda, Patricia Gurin, Jaclyn Rodriguez & Kelly Maxwell (2008), based on “Differentiating Dialogue from Discussion,” a handout developed by Diana Kardia and Todd Sevig (1997) for the Program on Intergroup Relations, Conflict, and Community (IGRC), University of Michigan; and, “Comparing Dialogue and Debate,” a paper prepared by Shelly Berman, Based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). Other members included Lucile Burt, Dick Mayo-Smith, Lally Stowell, and Gene Thompson.”

Promoting Disagreement

We find it useful to differentiate between (scientific) disagreement and (interpersonal) conflict. The paradoxical task of research teams is that they must become a place where, simultaneously, disagreement is freely expressed and personal conflict is contained and managed. Scholarship thrives on disagreement; it is the motivator for scientific progress. Interpersonal conflict is an inevitable part of human interaction and, if not managed well, can be tremendously destructive. Of course scientific disagreements sometimes segue into personal conflicts, especially when scientific disagreements become personalized. That is why it helps enormously to de-personalize scholarly disagreements.

A line of scholarly inquiry can begin with disagreement; the disagreement is then the basis for hypothesis formation and the first step towards a fact-based exploration for fundamental understanding. Although research can be incredibly competitive, it is not meant to be guided by either a primary concern for preserving relationships or a desire to win the argument regardless of relevant facts. The Nobel-Prize-winning behavioral scholar Daniel Kahneman has actually developed and employed a methodology of adversarial collaboration that attempts to exploit the strengths of both dialogue and debate and also elevates research above personal rivalry (Mellers, Hertwig, et al. 2001). When we look at it from the broadest perspective, research is a form of adversarial collaboration in which people with competing perspectives work toward the solution of shared problems and puzzles.

Differences between Debate, Discussion and Dialogue in Communication, Self-Orientation, Other-Orientation, Emotions, and End States.


Debate: In debate, two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong. Forceful assertion of one’s position. Debate creates closed-minded attitude.

Discussion: Exchange of information, opinions, experiences. Little attention to identity, power, and status. Discussion tends to contribute to the formation of an abstract notion of community.

Dialogue: In a dialogue, two or more sides work together toward a common understanding. Understanding based on appreciation of differences and personal experience.


Debate: Debate defends one’s own position as the best solution and excludes other solutions. Precludes revealing one’s assumptions.

Discussion: In discussion, one of the primary goals is to clarify and understand the issue, assuming that all are working with a stable reality. Orientation toward being right.

Dialogue: In dialogue, one submits one’s best thinking, knowing that other people’s reactions will help improve it rather than destroy it. In dialogue people reveal assumptions and personal values.


Debate: In debate, one looks for glaring differences in opinion. In debate, one listens to find flaws and weaknesses in the other position. Aim is to critique and defeat the other.

Discussion: In discussion, one listens primarily to be able to insert one’s own perspective. Little regard for participation of others.

Dialogue: In dialogue, one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning, and points of connection. One searches for strengths in the other positions. Dialogue oriented toward modifying one’s perspective.


Debate: In debate, one is not concerned with the feelings or emotions of the other. In debate, one does not consider how the debate will affect the relationship with the other.

Discussion: In discussion, emotional responses may be present but may be unwelcome. Strong focus on content rather than affect.

Dialogue: In dialogue, emotions help to deepen the understanding of personal and group relationship issues.

End State:

Debate: In debate, winning is the goal.

Discussion: In discussion, the more perspectives voiced, the better.

Dialogue: In dialogue, finding common ground is the goal.”

Quoted from pages 69-70 and 75-76 in Bennett, L. M., Gadlin, H., Marchand, C. (2018). Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide. 2nd edn., National Institutes of Health Publication No. 18-7660, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, United States of America.

This material was written in the context of team science.  Our emphasis is broader.  Therefore we substituted "scholarship" or "research" for "science" in the text.  We left the title of the manuscript quoted as Team Science so it can be found.