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Norms: Great Culture Tools

There are many types of culture tools that can help to make significant improvement in group culture. The one most often forgotten is to establish, and align with, norms within the group.

What Is A Group Norm?

How To Establish Norms As A Culture Tool

How To Align With Norms

Explicit vs Implicit Norms

What Lack Of Effective Norms Looks Like

What Presence Of Effective Norms Looks Like

Norm from Cheers is not a culture tool

What Is A Group “Norm”?

According to Merriam-Webster, norms can be defined as:

Norm 1: standards of proper or acceptable behaviorsocial/cultural 

Norms 2: something (such as a behavior or way of doing something) that is usual or expected

How To Establish Norms As A Culture Tool

There’s no way to prescribe norms to a group. However, we have seen a high level of success in groups that establish norms using three key methods:

  1. Involve everyone: Build norms alongside those you expect to uphold them.
  2. Connect to values: When there is alignment with the values of the group, culture health follows.
  3. Be Reasonable: You have to align with these consistently and clearly all the time. They have to be achievable.

How To Align With Norms: Culture Tools With Intent

Every day, we build norms whether we do it intentionally or not. That is why the most powerful culture tool can be to align to the norms you want with intent. If we allow members of our group to consistently act beyond their role, outside our norms, or against our values than that itself will become the norm.

When norms are clear and consistent, regular alignment can occur and be supported by everyone in the group. Having just two or three norms that connect to your values will allow them to be followed consistently. Using more than just a few explicit norms will quickly lead to decreased adherence.

*Important Note*

It is important to remember that norms are not about control. Norms are about processes that everyone in the group believes will lead to best possible outcomes. If aligning to them becomes more focused on punishment and/or compliance, culture will actually suffer. If this occurs, it’s time to revisit the values and norms as soon as possible with the group.

Explicit vs Implicit Norms

Explicit norms are communicated clearly as often and in as many forms as possible.

Implicit norms are the habits that develop due to alignment between explicit norms, values of the organization, and actions/statements of those in it.

What Lack Of Effective Norms Looks Like

In group culture, we often see lack of effective norms appear as dis-respectful language amongst peers, lack of engagement, decreased organizational commitment, and even increased turnover. These things generally don’t mean there are not any norms, but instead that there are more implicit norms of ambivalence, lack of clarity, and even fear.

What Presence of Effective Norms Looks Like

Conversely, the most successful groups we’ve worked with have norms that are both implicit and explicit in nature and involve support of one another, empathy for everyone, and collaboration in order to align with values. These norms lead to a high level of effective communication, more highly engaged members, people committed to the organization to a high degree, and much higher retention.

In Closing, Norms Shall Be…

Clear and concise, and decided collaboratively with as many members as possible.

Aligned to consistently and throughout all levels of the organization.

Aligned with the values of the group and alignment should be measurable.


For help establishing norms for your group based on data from how people behave

contact Boost Innovation.

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