My Ten Cents

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Concept of Group Norms

Norms are ethics or principles shared by groups or teams, both formal and informal; they help to, among many other things, minimize individual differences, maintain and preserve group integrity, and are formed with respect to those things the group deem important and necessary to function. Norms tend to reflect group values, and become habitual of group members over a period of time. Norms can be adopted as a part of the group’s written by-laws or constitution to be handed out to members, or it they can implicitly evolve over a period of time. Though group members are supposed to conform to its norms, not every member will come on board; some members will attempt to alter or completely change group norms.

Some of the common group norms include:
1.       Dress codes at public functions like weddings, picnics, and community services
2.       Pledge of loyalty to the group both publicly and privately
3.       Wearing distinctive hairstyles, or shoals around the neck (e.g. gang members)
4.       Distinctive handshakes as a mark of identification of members in public.
5.       Seating arrangements at group meetings for group leaders and subordinates
6.       Allocation of time slots for member contributions during deliberations
7.       Norms for allocation of group resources, and evaluation of member performances, respectively.
8.       Avoidance foul languages and stereotyping at meetings and other group gatherings
9.       Mutual respect among members within and outside group circles
10.   Punctuality to group meetings and other events

Conformity to group norms shows belongingness, and must not be construed as an attempt to regulate every aspect of group interaction; rather, it should be seen as a vehicle for expression of group values. For example, male group members may be required to wear black suits and blue ties at weddings and red or cream evening gowns for women; khaki shorts and red t-shirts with the group logo in front at community service functions, or plaid shorts and brown polo shirts at company picnics.
Group norms, has its positives and negatives. Some of the positive norms include defending the organization and management in the face of criticism; conveying a positive public image about the organization by speaking well of it in public; praising management-employee relationship to help boost morale and encourage new employees to be loyal to the organization, and promotion of an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust and acceptance in the organization.

Some of the negative group norms include disparaging the organization and its management in public and to applicants, thereby warding off potential new employees; promoting a negative work ethics by discouraging members from putting their best efforts at work; constantly challenging and working against every rule and regulation of the organization, regardless of its intent and benefits; creating an atmosphere of mistrust between management and subordinates, between departments, and among employees.

Group norms are revisited on a regular basis, to acquaint new members of these norms and to reinforce them among the old members; also to review and, possibly, eliminate the ones that are no longer useful to the group. It is also necessary to revisit these norms to ascertain whether they help or hurt the group, especially when some members leave a group; because certain norms may not contribute to the progress of a group. At the end of the day, norms only work if group members do not have reservations about them; so, it is important that a group reach consensus over the list of norms before they are adopted and become operational

Whenever you have more than one person working together, conflicts are bound to crop up over differences in goals and perceptions which include limited resources, reward structures, different goals and time horizons, status incongruence, and inaccurate perceptions; work or group interdependence which includes pooled, sequential and reciprocal interdependence; and increased demand for specialists.  Conflicts can usher in positive change in organizations, improve performance situations, and offer new solutions to existing problems when it is at optimal level. When conflict is at a low level in an organization, it leads to poor performances; at a very high level, conflicts lead to chaos that is capable of threatening organizational performance.
Organizational conflicts could be cross-cultural – between individuals or groups separated by cultural boundaries; personality – one employee not liking another based on one thing or the other; intergroup – conflict of interest between competing groups. Conflicts could be functional – which is a positive thing for the organization, or dysfunctional – which negatively impacts the organization. Whichever form the conflict takes, managers must be in a constant anticipatory and prepared mode to handle such conflicts.

Functional Conflicts are healthy constructive disagreements between groups and individuals on how best to achieve a mutual goal; they support organizational goals, and improve performances. Functional conflicts can arise between an organization’s production and sales team over costs and revenues, respectively. While the production team may want to cut production and labor costs, the sales team with a goal to increase sales by a certain percentage point would want production to hire more people to increase output. Though increased production will generate sales revenue for the organization, the extra cost may be bad for the production team which may already be under orders to trim its annual operating cost. Eventually, the two departments will work out a mutual agreement that will meet their individual goals. Functional, or constructive conflicts, are usually aimed at ideas, principles, and processes. They result in a solution to a problem; increase the involvement of every member of the group, and results in stronger team cohesion.

Dysfunctional conflicts, on the other hand, are disputes and disagreements that hinder organizational performance. It generally involves members of a group or two or more groups unwilling to work together to solve a problem, and management must work to eliminate such conflicts because of its destructive impact on organizational performance. Continuing with our example of the production and sales departments; suppose the production team refuses to budge on sales request to increase output to boost sales revenue, especially where resources were not allocated for expansion of the production department or purchase of new equipment, sales will not have the needed extra products to sell to meet its revenue goals. It may even refuse to accept the fact that the cost of production expansion may be much higher than the projected revenue from sale of the extra products. In this case, we have a dysfunctional conflict which may extend beyond organizational or departmental goals to personal hatred between the groups leadership.

Dysfunctional conflicts destroy group morale, polarize the group, divert energy from value-added activities, and leave the problem unresolved. It diverts managers’ time away from business opportunities; it forces compromises that end up leaving someone paying for the solution – in most cases, customers; also, it increases stress in the work place. Inter-group dysfunctional conflicts can lead to increased group cohesion, a rise in autocratic leadership focus on activity, emphasis on group loyalty, distorted perception of group members’ self-importance, negative stereotyping of other groups, and decreased communication between members of the groups involved in the conflict.
Every conflict is different and will require a different approach in solving it. Some conflicts could be resolved through resolutions which include problem solving, setting superordinate goals that will require the cooperation of teams to achieve, expanding resources to accommodate more team members, avoiding the issue in conflict (this is akin to pushing the issue under the rug to resurface sometime down the road, and is not advised), and emphasizing the shared interest of both teams. Other methods include compromising, identifying a common enemy, and altering the human and structural variables. Other types of conflict could be solved through cross-cultural and group negotiations, which involve understanding the other side’s interests and knowing all available options. Finally, conflicts could be resolved through team building or stimulation which will require trust on both sides, management’s commitment. Also important is sharing information and  providing adequate and necessary training to members, involving unions in the process, communication, involvement of outside personnel,  altering organizational structures, and stimulating competition through incentives and rewards.

Group Norms and Conflicts
Sometimes, group norms can result in conflicts among members and dysfunction that could affect group focus on goals and objectives. Such norms as dress codes which some members may object to on religious and cultural reasons, can lead to disobedience of group norms. For example, in a cross-cultural group which may include members from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa with a tradition of wearing hijabs, sarongs, and dashiki, it will be difficult to impose or adopt a code of mostly western-oriented dresses at group meetings and functions; because these members of the group could find western dressing discomforting and against their religious and cultural beliefs.
Another group norm that could result in conflicts is where incompatible personalities exist in a group. The group leader may be autocratic and authoritarian in his or her leadership style, and this may rub some members the wrong way, especially those members who are not used to being dictated to, and who believe in decisions through consensus agreements. Members with a work or social background where decisions are reached following inputs from every member may not accept a situation where a group or team leader will insist on his/her way, or try to influence the final group decision in his or her favor. There is likely to be objections which, if not handled carefully, will result in conflicts.
Extreme time pressure is another group norm that could result in conflicts. Some groups may allocate times for members to make contributions in a discussion. Some members who feel they have a lot of contributions to make on an issue may not feel the allocated time is enough for them to fully express their views, and they are bound to register their objections. Again, if changes are made, conflict will be avoided. Where the group leadership chose’s to ignore these concerns, it could result in member nonparticipation which could result in dysfunctional conflicts that may see aggrieved members leaving the group.

Groups and teams are the modern trend in some major companies today, because it is easier, cheaper, less bureaucratic, and much quicker to get things accomplished. These groups could be formal or informal, and could be formed for the purpose of creating a new product, carrying out a major reorganization project, or setting up a branch in a foreign country. Groups have norms that help guide its proceedings and operations, and they are binding on most members. While some norms can strengthen group cohesion, others could lead to inter – or intra – group conflicts which may be beneficial or destructive to the organization, depending on how it is managed. Functional conflicts, at an optimal level, lead to overall improvements in various levels of an organization, while dysfunctional conflicts produce the opposite result. Just as functional conflict is capable of strengthening an organization; dysfunctional conflict is capable of destroying it, if not solved immediately. Managers must expect and recognize the existence of, and prepare on how to manage and solve, team conflicts. They must, also, be able to differentiate between functional and dysfunctional conflicts, so as to harness the benefits of a functional conflict.


1.       The Development of Group Norms –
2.       Establishing Group Norms – Brushy Fork Institute (Karen West – 2010)
3.       Functional vs Dysfunctional Conflict in Organizations: Differences & Mediation – Jennifer Lombardo
4.       Organizational Behavior: Core Concepts – Angelo Kinicki
5.       Definition & Types of Team Conflict  (Mary Lewinson  - 2010)
6.       Managing Team Conflict – Cynthia Phillips
7.       Group Norms – Craig D. Parks (2011)

8.       Organizations: Behavior, Structures, Processes – J. L. Gibson, et al (14th Edition)
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