We often smile or laugh at the reruns of 1950s television shows where everyone is so nice and polite. Even when there was a problem to be solved during our favorite weekly episode, no one raised their voice, no one called anyone a name, and very seldom on those shows did anyone finish a call and begin to spread unfounded rumors.

Can you imagine if that same environment existed in the workplace? Consider the time and effort that could be directed toward productivity rather than creating resistance and negative feelings within the organization.

Establishing norms that are supported by leadership and put into practice by team members goes a long way in making the workplace a positive rather than combative environment. One of the most basic expected norms is assuming positive intent.

To create a high level of internal trust, leaders must work with teams to lay a cornerstone for all internal transactions. If these interactions are conducted in a manner that demonstrates and reciprocates trust, the first step on the journey toward a positive internal culture has been taken.

Why Ill Intent Costs So Much

We need only watch the movie “Office Space” to witness the daily toll that a poorly aligned and toxic environment can have on those occupying the workplace. The airing of personal grievances, efforts to sabotage the work of others, bullying, and overall dysfunction are common to workplaces and destructive to morale.

Here are a few outcomes of toxic work cultures that stem from ill intent:

  • Dramatic loss of productivity
  • Decrease in retention
  • Reduction of the work ethic until only basic expectations are met
  • Decrease in trust between team members
  • Lack of creativity or drive due to the absence of opportunities for individual advancement

Before things get out of control, leaders must address these issues head on. Yet, a purely reactionary approach by leadership will be an equally temporary solution, and the problem will start all over again. Solutions must be permanent and ongoing. An established norm is an incredibly valuable tool to ensure that happens.

Why Norms of Operation Can Be So Valuable

An organization’s operating norms offer a roadmap for interactions within the workplace. Making a proactive effort to establish positive interactions as a part of those norms ensures a level of awareness that cannot be ignored. It’s up to the leader to exemplify those practices at all times.

All team members should start with the assumption that they are trying their best to support the work and the culture. This assumption breeds trust and is supported by an expectation of kindness. Simply saying that it is your workplace’s norm to “behave professionally in all interactions” is a powerful way to make sure others understand what is expected of them.

Making positive interactions part of the workplace culture creates several new opportunities for workplace culture, including:

  • Collective accountability because everyone is responsible for ensuring a great workplace.
  • Time savings because leadership is not wasting time refereeing arguments.
  • Bolstered productivity because of the lack of distraction from negative behaviors.

Other expectations that are easily observed and quantifiable are “honoring time” and always “being professionally prepared.” When meetings have agendas and begin and end on time, the expectation of efficiency rises. The same expectations should also apply to one-on-one meetings.

Whatever set of norms a company decides to embrace, the assumption of positive intent must be present because it builds trust. Beyond positive intent, all norms must be easily understood, witnessed, and evaluated. Companies that function on a very high level of efficiency are very clear about their expectations for behavior and why it matters so much to the bottom line and beyond.