BUILDING A POSITIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT Changing Negative Norms into Positive Ones



Seminar Leader, Gary S. Topchik , is a man of action. He shares with us an exercise he uses in leadership, management, and team building programs. It is the final exercise because it is a very clear presentation of a very useful tool for making organizational change. In addition, Gary's structure of it facilitates learning and understanding of an organization's culture. We send you back to your job responsibilities as managers and leaders with a mandate for action and the tool to get started.

This is an exercise in defining organizational norms, finding ways to reinforce the positive ones and, especially , discovering ways to change the negative norms in one's organizational life into positive ones. It is a one hour adventure into serious examination of organizational pride , teamwork, communication, rewarded behaviors, accountability, and decision-making power that combine to characterize the culture of teams , departments, and organizations.


  • Leadership

  • Communication

  • Team Building


This activity gives team leaders, managers, and department heads the tools to build a more positive working environment.


  • To define and analyze organizational norms

  • To apply a four-step process for changing norms

  • To change current negative team or department norms into positive ones


Easels with flipcharts and markers

Handout A: Norm Categories


Team style


1 hour


  1. Ask participants to define "norm". (Norms represent the expected and accepted behavior of individuals in teams, groups, departments, and the organization).

  2. Share the following acronym:

    • N ever set in stone

    • O pen expressions of what people value

    • R epeated behaviors

    • M ajority behavior

    • S hape the personality of the team, group , department, or organization

  3. Ask the participants to share examples of current positive norms that exist in their teams, departments, and so on, and some negative norms that need to change. Teams, departments and organizations have norms around:

    • Organizational Pride

    • Teamwork

    • Communication

    • Rewarded Behaviors

    • Accountability

    • Decision-Making Power

    Distribute Handout A.

  4. Introduce the Four-Step Process for Changing Norms:

    • Step 1. Describe the current norm that needs to be changed and why.

    • Step 2. Describe the new norm to take its place.

    • Step 3. Develop an action plan for changing from the old norm to the new one.

    • Step 4. Implement the action plan and follow up to make sure the new norms are being adhered to.

      (What we are really talking about in this four-step process is changing inappropriate or negative norms into appropriate or positive norms. When you do this, you change the negative culture of a team, department, and so on, to a positive one).

  5. Divide participants into smaller groups and have them decide on a current negative norm that they would like to take through the first three steps of the process.

  6. Share the following or similar example with the class if necessary.

    • Current Norm: Risk taking is discouraged.

    • New Norm: Risk taking is encouraged.

    • Possible Action Plan: Individuals are not punished for making mistakes.

    • Creative or new solutions to existing problems are rewarded.

    • Training sessions on how to take intelligent risks are held.

    • Innovative strategies are publicly acknowledged . They are published in the company newsletter; senior managers are informed of who came up with the new approach; or notices are posted around the department.

  7. Have a few of the smaller groups share their steps with the others. Ask participants the benefits of following this Four-Step Process and what barriers they may face.

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A team, department or organization's culture (personality) is made up of six interdependent norm categories:

  1. Organizational Pride. What do people say about the company where they work or the team with which they work? What are their opinions of the services or products the organization provides?

  2. Teamwork. How do people work together? Are their levels of cooperation high? Do departments help one another? Do team members share information? Is everyone working toward the same goals?

  3. Communication. How is information disseminated? Is communication oneway only? How are meetings run? Are they effective? Is the communication technology state-of-the-art? How is change communicated?

  4. Rewarded Behaviors. This is not the type of reward people receive for good performance or behavior, but what behaviors or actions are rewarded. For example, is expressing different opinions rewarded or punished? Are coming to work early and staying late rewarded?

  5. Accountability. Is there any accountability or can people do what they wish? If one does not complete projects on time, does not show up for work, has low quality work, what can be done? Are certain people held accountable and not others?

  6. Decision-Making Power. How involved are individuals in decisions about the work that affects them? Do people have any say in changing work procedures, coming up with different ways of doing things, and so on?

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Name :

Gary S. Topchik


Silver Star Enterprises


333 South Doheny Drive,


Suite 305


Los Angeles, CA 90048






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GARY S. TOPCHIK is the managing partner of SilverStar Enterprises, a consulting firm based in Southern California that specializes in management and leadership development, organizational change, team building (both in and out of doors), and executive coaching. Gary has worked with many CEOs and a variety of organizations, including Dolby Sound, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Oracle, Amway, Telecordia, Aramco, AT&T, Honeywell, Fannie Mae, Disney, Dow Jones, Western Digital, Nextel, and many governmental and not-for-profit agencies. He is also a creative consultant to the entertainment industry where he authenticates workplace scripts and scenes for television and movies.

Gary is currently an instructor in the Business and Management Department at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and has had articles published in leading professional journals. He has written two books, E quity C hecking : M anaging A ssumptions to A chieve O rganizational S uccess , (Barrington Press, 1999) and M anaging W orkplace N egativity (AMACOM, 2000). He has worked in Asia, The Middle East, South America, and Europe, and was recently named the "C onsultant of the Y ear " by the International Training and Development Federation (ITDF).

Gary has an MBA in Organizational Behavior from Cornell University and is a registered Organizational Development (OD) consultant.

Gary S. Topchik has taught this AMA seminar:


How to Manage Workplace Negativity

The AMA Trainers Activity Book. A Selection of the Best Learning Exercises from the Worlds Premiere Training Organization
The AMA Trainers Activity Book: A Selection of the Best Learning Exercises from the Worlds Premiere Training Organization
ISBN: 0814408141
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 61

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