Group Norms

Group norms are shared rules within a group, categorized as descriptive (common behavior) or injunctive (socially approved). They develop through socialization and are enforced. Norms affect social identity and conformity. Examples include workplace, cultural, and online community norms.

Introduction to Group Norms

Group norms are the shared beliefs and expectations that define appropriate behavior within a group. They serve as a set of guidelines for members, influencing how they should act, communicate, and make decisions. Norms can be both explicit and implicit, and they often evolve over time as groups form, grow, and adapt.

Key principles of group norms include:

  1. Social Expectations: Group norms represent the collective understanding of what is considered socially acceptable behavior within the group. They help establish a sense of order and predictability.
  2. Conformity: Members often conform to group norms to gain acceptance, avoid conflict, or align with the group’s values. Nonconformity can result in social pressure or ostracism.
  3. Adaptability: Group norms can adapt and change in response to shifts in group dynamics, external factors, or evolving goals and values.
  4. Cultural Context: Group norms are influenced by cultural, societal, and organizational factors, and they can vary widely across different groups and contexts.

Types of Group Norms

Group norms can be categorized into several types based on their focus and purpose:

  1. Prescriptive Norms: These norms prescribe or dictate specific behaviors that are expected within the group. For example, a workplace might have a prescriptive norm that employees should arrive at work on time.
  2. Proscriptive Norms: Proscriptive norms specify behaviors that are prohibited or discouraged within the group. For instance, a family may have a proscriptive norm against using offensive language during meals.
  3. Descriptive Norms: Descriptive norms describe the behaviors that are commonly observed or practiced within the group. They reflect what most members actually do, and they can influence others to conform to those behaviors.
  4. Injunctive Norms: Injunctive norms define what is morally or ethically right or wrong within the group. They guide members toward actions that align with the group’s values and principles.
  5. Formal Norms: These norms are explicitly stated and documented, often in written codes of conduct, policies, or rules. Organizations commonly use formal norms to establish clear expectations.
  6. Informal Norms: Informal norms are not explicitly documented but are understood and practiced by group members through observation and socialization. They often emerge naturally over time.

Development of Group Norms

Group norms develop and evolve through a process influenced by various factors. The stages of norm development typically include:

  1. Formation: In the initial stages of group formation, members begin to establish norms by testing behaviors and reactions. These norms are often shaped by early interactions and the group’s purpose.
  2. Socialization: As new members join the group, they learn about existing norms through observation, interaction, and feedback from other members. Socialization helps newcomers conform to established norms.
  3. Enforcement: Norms become more defined and reinforced as they are consistently practiced and upheld by group members. Those who violate norms may face social consequences.
  4. Evolution: Norms can evolve over time as the group faces new challenges, experiences changes in membership, or adapts to external factors. Evolution may involve the creation of new norms or modifications to existing ones.
  5. Solidification: Over time, some norms become deeply ingrained and central to the group’s identity. These solidified norms are less likely to change and are upheld as core values.

Impact of Group Norms

Group norms have a profound impact on the behavior, culture, and functioning of groups and organizations. Their influence is evident in various ways:

  1. Behavioral Guidance: Norms provide clear expectations, reducing ambiguity and guiding members on how to behave in specific situations.
  2. Social Cohesion: Norms foster a sense of belonging and identity within the group. They promote cohesion and solidarity among members who share common values.
  3. Conflict Resolution: Norms help prevent and resolve conflicts by providing a framework for addressing disputes and disagreements.
  4. Conformity and Compliance: Members often conform to group norms to gain acceptance or approval from their peers. This can lead to compliance with established standards.
  5. Innovation and Change: Norms can either support or hinder innovation and change. Groups with rigid norms may resist change, while those with adaptive norms may embrace it.
  6. Performance and Productivity: Norms can impact group performance and productivity. High-performance norms can motivate members to excel, while low-performance norms may lead to mediocrity.
  7. Ethical Behavior: In organizations, ethical norms guide decision-making and behavior, promoting ethical conduct and responsible business practices.

Significance of Group Norms

Group norms hold significant significance in various contexts:

  1. Organizational Culture: In businesses and institutions, group norms contribute to the organizational culture, shaping the way employees interact, make decisions, and carry out their roles.
  2. Social Order: Norms are essential for maintaining social order within communities and societies. They help prevent chaos and ensure that people follow established rules and values.
  3. Community Building: Norms play a vital role in community building, as they define the shared values and expectations that bind members together.
  4. Leadership and Governance: Leaders and governing bodies often play a role in setting and reinforcing norms, ensuring that they align with the group’s mission and goals.
  5. Conflict Management: Norms provide a framework for addressing conflicts and resolving disputes, promoting constructive dialogue and compromise.
  6. Inclusivity and Diversity: Awareness of group norms is essential in promoting inclusivity and diversity, as it allows for the recognition and accommodation of different cultural norms and values.


Group norms are an integral part of human social interaction, influencing behavior, culture, and the functioning of groups, organizations, and societies. Understanding the types, development process, impact, and significance of group norms is essential for individuals, leaders, and members of groups to navigate and shape the dynamics of the communities they belong to. Recognizing the role of norms and their potential for both positive and negative influence is crucial for fostering healthy and productive group environments.

Case Studies

Workplace Norms:

  • Punctuality: Employees are expected to arrive at work and meetings on time.
  • Dress Code: Many workplaces have dress code norms, ranging from business casual to formal attire.
  • Communication Etiquette: Professional and respectful communication is often encouraged, such as addressing colleagues by their titles.
  • Teamwork: Collaboration and cooperation are normative behaviors, and teamwork is highly valued.
  • Confidentiality: Norms may dictate the handling of sensitive information, emphasizing confidentiality.

Cultural Norms:

  • Greetings: Different cultures have norms regarding how people greet each other, such as handshakes, bows, or cheek kisses.
  • Dining Etiquette: Cultural norms dictate table manners, including the use of utensils, sharing food, and seating arrangements.
  • Religious Practices: Religiously diverse societies have norms related to religious observances, rituals, and customs.
  • Language Use: Language norms encompass appropriate forms of address, politeness levels, and linguistic conventions.

Online Communities:

  • Netiquette: Online forums and social media platforms often have norms for respectful and constructive communication, discouraging trolling or cyberbullying.
  • Moderation: Norms may require moderation of content to ensure it aligns with community standards.
  • Social Sharing: Platforms have norms for sharing personal information, images, and updates.
  • Hashtags: Norms govern the use of hashtags to categorize and organize content for broader visibility.

Family Norms:

  • Family Roles: Norms within families define roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each family member.
  • Communication Styles: Families may have norms for open communication or, conversely, privacy and discretion.
  • Respect for Elders: Many cultures prioritize respecting and deferring to elders as a norm.
  • Family Gatherings: Norms dictate behavior during family gatherings, such as holidays or reunions.

Academic Norms:

  • Academic Integrity: Norms emphasize honesty, discouraging cheating, plagiarism, and academic dishonesty.
  • Classroom Behavior: Norms may include raising hands to ask questions, participating in class discussions, and respecting the instructor.
  • Study Groups: Collaborative study norms encourage group learning and knowledge sharing.
  • Library Etiquette: Norms dictate quiet behavior and respect for others in library spaces.

Sports Team Norms:

  • Sportsmanship: Norms promote fair play, respect for opponents, and acceptance of referees’ decisions.
  • Training Regimens: Team norms often require rigorous training schedules and commitment to physical fitness.
  • Loyalty: Players are expected to show loyalty to their team, coaches, and fellow athletes.
  • Celebration: Norms guide how players celebrate victories or goals, emphasizing unity and humility.

Key Highlights:

  • Social Guidelines: Group norms are unwritten rules that guide behavior within a social group, shaping how individuals interact and relate to one another.
  • Types of Norms: Group norms can be categorized into descriptive norms (reflecting common behavior), injunctive norms (indicating what is socially approved), prescriptive norms (specifying expected behavior), and proscriptive norms (forbidding certain actions).
  • Development: Group norms develop over time through interactions, shared experiences, and consensus among members. They can be explicit or implicit.
  • Socialization: New members of a group learn about its norms through a process called socialization, where they observe and adapt to established behaviors.
  • Enforcement: Norms are often reinforced through mechanisms such as peer pressure, positive feedback for conformity, or social sanctions for norm violations.
  • Benefits: Group norms contribute to social cohesion, providing a sense of unity and belonging. They also enhance predictability and efficiency within the group.
  • Effects: Norms influence individual behavior, leading to conformity and alignment with group values. They contribute to the formation of a shared social identity.
  • Cultural Variation: Norms can vary significantly across different cultures and subcultures, reflecting the diversity of human social behavior.
  • Implications: Norms have implications for inclusivity, as inclusive norms promote diversity and tolerance. However, established norms can also resist change.
  • Examples: Norms exist in various contexts, including workplaces, cultural practices, online communities, families, academia, and sports teams, shaping behavior and expectations in each setting.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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