1. Characteristics of a group

1.8 Norms

Every group has a set of norms: a code of conduct about what is acceptable behaviour. They may apply to everyone in the group or to certain members only. Some norms will be strictly adhered to while others permit a wide range of behaviour. The group usually has sanctions (e.g., disapproval) which it may apply in the case of "deviation". Common norms in groups include: taboo subjects, open expression of feelings, interrupting or challenging the tutor, volunteering one's services, avoiding conflict, length and frequency of contributions. All of these are usually hidden or implicit and new members may find it difficult to adjust. Over the first few meetings of a group there may be confusion about the norms are with consequent frustration, discomfort, and lost momentum. It may be helpful to invite a group to break into subgroups to discuss its norms and perhaps to discard some of those which seem counter-productive.

Questions about norms:

  • Are there any taboo topics?
  • How do norms appear to be enforced? Who does it?
  • Does anyone consistently break the norms. How does the group respond?
  • Are there norms about breaking or not breaking norms?
  • Are the norms well-understood by everyone?
  • Do the norms seem to help or hinder progress?

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