Group norms are adopted to regulate actions and represent value judgments about appropriate behavior in social situations. Although these informal rules are rarely written down or discussed, they have a powerful influence on group conduct. If each individual in a group decided how to behave in each interaction, no one’s reaction would be predictable and chaos would reign.
Understanding how group norms develop and why they are enforced is important to managers, as they are signs of a group’s potential productivity. Managers can play a part in setting and changing norms by implementing them to facilitate tasks, assessing whether a group’s current norms are functional and addressing counterproductive norms with subordinates.
Groups do not establish norms about every conceivable situation, but only with respect to things that are significant to the group. Furthermore, norms vary in terms of the range of permissible deviation; sanctions, either mild or extreme, are usually applied to people for breaking norms.
Without the commitment necessary from top management, modifying an organization’s performance will be challenging. For example, Singapore International Schools in Indonesia has grown from a school with 35 students to eight schools in different cities with over 3,000 students. In order to change the organization’s direction, three strategies were adopted: hiring people with the same values, socializing values and applying transformational leadership.
Transforming performance takes time, though—norms usually develop slowly as groups learn the behaviors that will expedite their tasks. Most norms develop as a result of explicit statements by supervisors or coworkers; critical events in the group’s history; introduction early in the group’s history; or carry-over behaviors from past situations.
The most important reason group norms are enforced is to ensure group survival, but they are also in place to better predict the conduct of group members, help groups avoid interpersonal problems and to express the central values of the group and clarify what is distinctive about it. The effectiveness of norms also proves that readjusting the status quo can also shift the bottom line.
BY MARTIN HAHN
Martin Hahn, Ph.D., received his degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in Southeast Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism and management consulting. After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to Southeast Asia again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer and international school administrator. For more information, please visit www.martin-hahn.net.