Changing the norms of informal groups
A supervisor should attempt to encourage norms that positively affect the formal organization's goals, and to alter those that are negative. If this is accomplished, the informal group/ team will direct its energies toward desired goals.
How can a supervisor bring about a positive change in a group / team's norms?
Once a group / team has developed its norms, they are strictly enforced until changed. But norms change frequently because the group / team must be responsive to changes in its environment for self-protection. When a perceived change occurs in the environment that affects the group / team, it tightens, eases, or changes its norms.
There are three stages to fostering group / team / team norms that are congenial to the organization.
- Stage 1
- Stage 2
- Stage 3
The first stage involves determining what the group/ team/ norms are, and then getting group/ team members to recognize their existence and influence.
This can often be accomplished by observing the behavior patterns of the group / team, interviewing group / team members, or asking the group/ team to identify its own norms. As noted earlier, people frequently respect and follow norms unconsciously.
A suggested way is to use our Team Building - Informal Group Organizational Norms Employee Survey (available for purchase by clicking here.) This instrument has ten predetermined dimensions, these are (together with definitions,) as follows.
- Organizational / Personal Pride. Satisfaction or pleasure taken in attaining personal or organizational achievements.
- Performance / Excellence. Manner or quality of functioning when striving to meet or beat standards of performance. This includes setting personal standards when none are set/ defined.
- Teamwork / Communication. The perception that organizational goals and objectives are communicated to and shared by members of the group. The organization has effectively shared its' vision or sense of purpose so that all employees can articulate and subscribe to.
- Leadership / Supervision. The style of management / supervision in engaging employees to deliver willingly their best efforts towards organizational goals.
- Profitability / Cost Effectiveness. Awareness of employees of their roles and actions to the organizations 'bottom line'.
- Colleague / Associate Relations. Personal connections or dealings between or among individuals and groups.
- Customer / Client Relations. Personal and group attitude towards clients, both internal (i.e. other departments in the case of service departments) and external suppliers and customers.
- Innovation / Creativity. To be aware of, appreciate the need for and strive for new ways of performing a function, process, procedure or the organization's business model in terms of the need flowing from constant changes in the external environment, the need to be competitive and the need to retain customer loyalty and confidence.
- Training / Development. The opportunities within the organization and the climate set that promote personal growth and development.
- Candor / Openness. The willingness to promote open, honest and direct dialog by all employees at all levels on issues that affect individuals, groups and the organization as a whole. This includes the sharing of information, respect for the diverse backgrounds and experiences of members, the absence of 'competition over territory' and the agreement of goals and levels of performance/ quality.
Helping define norms is useful because it assists the group / team in clarifying its thinking and frees members from behavior patterns that they may not really wish to follow in the first place.
When group / team members actually become aware of negative norms, they commonly reject them and seek alternative modes of behavior. And the supervisor can't begin to change negative norms to positive ones until group / team members first become aware of their existence.
Having identified the team's norms, the next stage is to measure the norms and establish a norm profile. Using the Team Building - Informal Group Organizational Norms Employee Survey instrument, each team member is posed a set of questions, related to the 10 dimensions. As shown in the 'Group Norms Profile' graphic, the responses can be averaged and plotted in order to obtain a norm profile for the group under review.
The difference between where the group / team is versus where the desired norms of the group should be, denotes the normative "gap." These gaps provide the starting point for determining where changes should occur.
The final stage is to bring about normative change. A systematic change process consists of six steps:
- Demonstrate the importance of norms in achieving organizational and group/ team effectiveness.
- Create positive norm goals through cooperative effort.
- Establish normative change priorities.
- Determine a plan of action to bring about change.
- Implement and monitor the change strategy.
- Review the effectiveness of the strategy periodically and modify where necessary.
This process emphasizes the creation of positive norms through cooperative effort that benefits both the supervisor and the group/ team. Positive group/ team norms -increase the effectiveness of the supervisor while providing an environment in which group/ team members can satisfy their own needs.
The process also improves team communications and trust, reducing the anxiety sometimes created by perceived threats from management.
If the informal group / team's norms are negative, they can negate the interests of an organization many times the group / team's size. The process of change is a tool by which a supervisor can deal with the informal group/ team stresses that exist within the organization and that tend to de-motivate employees.
By fostering positive group norms, a supervisor can harness the power of informal groups and release the energies of such groups to work together as a team to achieve desired goals.
Next | How leader perceptions influence performance. The self-fulling prophecy