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Cassandra O’Neill on 7 Norms of Collaboration

My name is Cassandra O’Neill and I’ve been a consultant for the past 10 years. I’m a member of a network of consultants and coaches called Wholonomy Consulting.  I’m also the President-Elect for the Arizona Evaluation Network and a member of the AEA Local Affiliate Council. A theme in my work is using effective engagement for high impact collaboration.  I have several resources to share with others interested in increasing the effectiveness and impact of collaborations.

Rad Resource: I wrote an article for the Charity Channel on High Impact Partnering. In this article, I talk about a set of practices called the Seven Norms of Collaboration described by the Center for Adaptive Schools. Research has shown that high performing teams utilize these norms.  The 7 norms are as follows:

  • Promoting a Spirit of Inquiry .Building a culture of inquiry promotes the exploration of what people mean rather than making assumptions.
  • Pausing .Pausing is one of the most powerful practices. Pausing allows time for thinking and reflecting. Learning comes from reflecting, not from doing.
  • Paraphrasing .Starting with a paraphrase of what you heard another person say is one of the most helpful ways to clarify what is meant. When hearing a paraphrase people often realize that what they said isn’t actually what they meant.
  • Probing. Asking for more details or for clarification is very effective at increasing understanding.
  • Putting ideas on the Table .One of the principals of successful brainstorming is that no criticism is allowed. This is because idea generation is richer when people focus exclusively on generating ideas.
  • Paying Attention to Self and Others .This is something that has a big payoff when working with groups. Watching how people are responding and reacting will allow for changes to be made in the conversation that will positively impact the group.
  • Presuming Positive Intentions . Often people get caught up in attributing negative intentions for a behavior they are noticing, without doing any checking. When people report others negative intentions, it can lead to misunderstandings which are not based in reality. Further investigation often reveals that there was a positive intention.

Hot Tip: Using the Seven Norms to Build Skills for High-Impact Collaboration.  Skilled facilitators often use these norms. If you want to start building your collaboration skill set, you can assess your use of these Seven Norms individually and in the groups that you are part of. This offers a way to look at what your meetings and conversations look like now, and identify opportunities for growth. Like any new skill, they can’t be learned overnight. They are something you can aspire to in your organization and among your partnerships.

In addition to using these norms when collaborating with other organizations, boards and executive directors can use them within their own communication as a way to increase proficiency, and model the behavior they would like to see in their staff.

See the Center for Adaptive Schools Website to learn more about these norms and how to assess them at

The following links are to my article on High Impact Partnering.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to


  • 7 Norms of Collaboration · March 12, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    […] Cassandra O’Neill has a guest post on Aea365 with 7 “norms” of collaboration: promote a spirit of inquiry, pause, paraphrase, probe, more. […]


  • Cassandra O'Neill · March 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for the comment and resource.


  • Author comment by Marcus · March 11, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Hi Cassandra,

    Great tips! Speaking of collaboration, another great resource is a text called “The Skilled Facilitator” by Roger Schwarz. In addition to discussing tips for engaging others, he also discusses other important considerations for an efficient and effective collaborative atmosphere.


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