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Informal Group Dynamics at Work

A supervisor should attempt to encourage norms that positively affect the formal organisation's goals, and to alter those that are negative. If this is accomplished, the informal group will direct its energies toward desired goals.

How can a supervisor bring about a positive change in a group's norms?

Once a group has developed its norms, they are strictly enforced until changed. But norms change frequently because the group must be responsive to changes in its environment for self-protection. When a perceived change occurs in the environment that affects the group, it tightens, eases, or changes it norms.

There are three stages to fostering group norms that are congenial to the organisation.

First Stage

The first stage involves determining what the group norms are, and then getting group members to recognise their existence and influence. This can often be accomplished by observing the behaviour patterns of the group, interviewing group members, or asking the group to identify its own norms. As we noted, people frequently respect and follow norms unconsciously. Helping define norms is useful because it assists the group in clarifying its thinking and frees members from behaviour patterns that they may not really wish to follow in the first place.

When group members actually become aware of negative norms, they commonly reject them and seek alternative modes of behaviour. Supervisors can't begin to change negative norms to positive ones until group members first become aware of their existence.

Second Stage

Once the group's norms are identified, the next stage is to measure the norms and establish a norm profile. Various norm categories should be established that relate to organisational and group effectiveness.

Each group member should then be asked to rate the norm's intensity from low to high. A nine-point scale may be used in which nine represents where the group should realistically be.

As shown in the 'Group Norms Profile' graphic, the responses can be averaged and plotted in order to obtain a norm profile. The difference between where the group is and where it should be represents a normative "gap." These gaps provide a starting point for determining where changes should occur.

Third Stage

The final stage is to bring about normative change. A systematic change process consists of six steps:

Demonstrate the importance of norms in achieving organisational and group 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 emphasises the creation of positive norms through cooperative effort that benefits both the supervisor and the group. Positive group norms increase the effectiveness of the supervisor while providing an environment in which group 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's norms are negative, they can negate the interests of an organisation many times the group's size.

The process of change is a tool by which a supervisor can deal with the informal group stresses that exist within the organisation 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.

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