Introduction Good Morning! Imagine that an Australian university student invites an international university student to a barbeque. The international student comes from a country whose culture is very different to Australia’s. Unsure of themselves, the international student asks what they should wear and what they should bring to the barbeque. In response the Australian who invited them says ‘Wear what you want, and bring something to drink, and some meat, it’s a barbeque, it’s very laid back’. So the student dresses in a kilt (no underpants), brings a bottle of whisky, and a freshly skinned cow haunch.
The Australians are surprised and can’t understand why the Scottish student has dressed like he has and brought what he did. An understanding by both parties of group norms would have enabled them to understand how mistakes were made and maybe how to fix them, possibly by enabling the Australians to including new behaviours into their group. We are discussing the concept of group norms in Daniel, C. Feldman’s article ‘The Development and Enforcement of Group Norms’. We will tie this in with Irving Janis’ concept of groupthink, which is arguably caused by the development and enforcement of group norms.
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Daniel Feldman (1984, p. 47) states that ‘group norms are the informal rules that groups adopt to regulate and regularise group members’ behaviour’ (Hackman, 1976 in Feldman 1984 p. 47). When this happens it is possible and sometimes likely that bad or irrational decisions will be made. This is Janis’ groupthink, ‘a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action’ (Janis 1977 p.? ).
This is like peer group pressure stopping people in a group from arguing that drinking too much the night before an exam is a bad idea or that arriving drunk to a lecture will not be funny. Feldman’s paper is an analysis of two important aspects of group norms: why they are enforced and how they develop. Feldman felt there had not been enough focus on these because most of what was known about group norms came from analysis of their effect on objective outcomes (Feldman 1984, p. 47). Feldman wanted to know why group norms existed in one group but sometimes not in another.
He thought this was important to understand because group norms can play a large role in determining whether a group will be productive or not (Feldman 1984 p. 47), and also because managers who understand group norms could play a major role in setting and changing group norms It is our intent to show that Feldman’s concepts of group norms create an environment where Janis’ groupthink becomes possible, examples of this being the collapse of ENRON Corporation and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It is important to remember.
In an environment where a manager has an understanding of the dangers of group norms and groupthink, they have better control over a group’s behaviour and can ensure errors of judgement are much less likely to occur. Why are Group Norms Enforced Feldman (1984, p. 47) states that ‘group norms are usually informal and are infrequently written down or discussed’, also he agrees with M. Shaw’s (1981) suggestion that ‘a group does not establish or enforce norms about every conceivable situation’. So why are group norms such a significant part of a workforce or a group of people?
It is because there is a frequent distinction between maintaining the tasks a group is set and maintaining a group socially (Feldman, 1984, p. 47), for example, tasks require objective dialogue between group members but pre-existing gender roles may cause undue pressure on men or women within a group to produce stereotyped responses. This means that ‘norms are formed and enforced only with respect to behaviours that have some significance for the group’ (Feldman, 1984, p. 47). Feldman (1984, pp. 47-50) believes that there are four reasons why group norms are enforced. Norms are likely to be enforced if they facilitate group survival. ???Norms are likely to be enforced if they simplify, or make predictable, what behaviour is expected of group members. ???Norms are likely to be enforced if they help the group avoid embarrassing interpersonal problems. ???Last. Norms are likely to be enforced if they express the central values of the group and clarify what is distinctive about the group’s identity. Norms facilitating group survival protect group members from external threats.
For example, group members may decide not to discuss their salaries with members of other groups or organisations in order to hide favourable inequities in pay. Norms facilitating survival may also control productivity and aid in keeping the work rate of employees at a preferred level. For example, a group preferring a relaxed production quota would be unable to make its managers accept its low rate of production if one of its number consistently did more productive work than others, subsequently, when this happens the violating group member is very likely to be ostracized. Feldman, 1984, p. 48). Norms that simplify, or make predictable, the behaviour of group members, enable individuals to anticipate the behaviours and actions of people in their group, and as a result prepare the most appropriate response in a short amount of time. Feldman believes that without the benefit of these kinds of group norms, if a group member had to decide on an appropriate manner in which to behave in each situation they are confronted with, much valuable time would be lost. Feldman, 1984, pp. 48-49). Norms that help a group avoid embarrassing interpersonal problems ensure that no one’s self image is damaged, called into question, or embarrassed. As a result the group may ‘establish norms that discourage topics of conversation or situations in which face is too likely to be inadvertently broken’ (Feldman, 1984, p. 49). For example discussion of sexual orientation and relationships, or meeting socially at people’s homes may be proscribed. (Feldman, 1984, p. 49)
Finally, Feldman believes that norms are likely to be enforced if they express the central values of the group and clarify what is distinctive about the group’s identity. An example of this would be a factory workers’ union identifying its members as working class and determining because of this that their main objective is members’ job security and an equal base of pay. (Feldman, 1984, p. 49). Feldman can see there are both positives and negatives to the enforcement of group norms. It is the negative enforcement of group norms that Feldman is concerned about.
He would like to enable managers to understand what they are, why they are enforced and how they develop so that they are less likely to negatively effect a group’s decisions. Janis Irving’s groupthink ??? another definition is ‘a collective pattern of defensive avoidance’ (Irving, 1972), was coined to describe situations where group norms caused poor decision making. In ‘Victims of Groupthink’ Janis believes that the negative ramifications of groupthink are ‘deterioration of mental efficacy, reality testing and moral judgement that results from in-group pressures’ (Irving, 1972).
Janis believes that groupthink brings out imperfections in group decisions, effects group cohesiveness and increases pressure for individuals to conform to group norms (Irving, 1972). Feldman’s concepts of group norms can create an environment where Janis’ groupthink becomes possible. Two examples of this are the collapse of Enron and The Bay of Pigs Invasion. Arguably the most famous corporate collapse ever was that of the ENRON Corporation, Feldman’s group norms and Janis’ groupthink created an environment that lead to its collapse.
The US Senate, investigating the cause, found that the Enron board failed to recognise its fiduciary obligations, knowingly allowed the company to conduct billions of dollars in off-book activity to appear financially stronger than it was, approved excessive compensation and even waived compliance with ENRON’s own code of conduct. According to Sarra (2002), the directors at ENRON viewed management through “heavily tinted … rose-coloured lenses”, and they “consistently failed to question transactions or … accounting practices. ” Sarra (2002) also concluded that lack of diversity on the board was a major contributing factor.
The culture was one of conformity, important questions were not asked and there was no challenge to group decisions. The directors exhibited many of the symptoms of “groupthink” – shared backgrounds, financial incentives to bond together, and a board culture promoting unquestioning loyalty to Enron officers, prevented the Enron board from critically evaluating decisions, and led to a sense of invulnerability in risk-taking decisions. Under-performing employees were summarily dismissed and anybody who questioned Enron’s innovative management practices either ‘voluntarily’ resigned or were fired.
Janis has used the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 to illustrate how individuals can fall victim to groupthink. The invasion occurred during the first year of the Kennedy presidency, it was a failed attempt to overthrow the communist government of Cuba. It was perpetrated by Cuban exiles from the United States of America who were funded and trained by the U. S. government. This is a historic example that examines ill-fated group decisions. It looks at the mystery of how intelligent people can make decisions that lead to disastrous outcomes.
According to Janis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion rates among the worst decisions ever made by a responsible government (Irving, 1972). Why was this so? Feldman’s reasons for the enforcement of group norms created an environment controlled by them. For example, President Kennedy and his advisors wanted to preserve their self-image, they perceived themselves as invulnerable ??? thinking that they could do no wrong (Irving, 1972). Also, President Kennedy’s advisors wanted to ensure the survival of themselves as advisors, and the Kennedy administration that empowered them (their group).
They created an illusion of unanimity ??? arriving at a consensus by suppressing personal doubts generated by individual critical thinking and reality testing. How Group Norms Develop In addition to questioning why certain group norms are enforced, Feldman also highlights the importance of understanding how they develop. Feldman theorises that norms will either ‘develop gradually and informally’ or will be ‘short-cut by a critical event in the group or by conscious group decision. ‘ (Feldman, 1984). From this, he details four different ways in which group norms most commonly develop.
These are: ???Through explicit statements made by supervisors or co-workers; ???From a critical event in the group’s history; ???Through the process of primacy; ???Or from carry-over behaviours from past situations. Group norms may develop through one or several of these occurrences. A manager may set certain rules regarding the behaviour of employees in order to maintain group productivity and ensure the preservation of effective group relations. Such regulations may refer to the entire group or be made only for a particular individual.
New employees are particularly likely to be exposed to this development of norms, especially if they are unfamiliar with the working environment and what is expected of them. This form of development will often have negative impacts on the wellbeing of an organisation if a manager or leader has too much influence. A recent example of this can be seen in the downfall of the multi-million dollar organisation Enron, whose leadership embodied group norms that promoted a silencing of employees over misconduct and malpractice that were to lead to its eventual collapse (House, Watt and Williams, 2004).
However, the development of such norms can also be quite positive in its outcomes, as demonstrated by Stoeva (2004) who details the development of norms concerning the prevention of torture against humans. Stoeva (2004) details seven stages of development, starting at an initial idea, which moves to a network configuration, then issue formation, eventually a dialogue with conservative forces, closure of debate, and finally legislation that is operated on.
Feldman states that a critical event in a group’s history, whether large or small, will often result in certain group norms being consciously developed. A critical event may be either positive or negative for group productivity and will result in an attempt to either repeat or reverse the experience. The results of such critical incidents may affect future organisational proceedings such as hiring practices, policies concerning discretion at work and/or the flows of information between co-workers and managers.
Feldman refers to Janis’ Victims of Groupthink (1972) to highlight the possible effects of group norm development from critical events. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion came as a result of negative group norms regarding the silencing of disagreement with the President’s beliefs. The norms were established after one group member received advice from the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, about not openly disagreeing with the President (Irving, 1972). Feldman describes primacy as behavioural patterns that emerge from early proceedings in a group’s history.
Despite the fact that this may be something as simple as where a person sits during a meeting or lunch break, a disruption of this practice may negatively affect group relations. Feldman states that norms that have developed through primacy have often done so in order to simplify expected behaviours. Examples of this can be seen in this room. Most people in this tutorial will come in and sit down in a specific seat or area. Even though these seats have not been designated and a person is able to move at any time, group norms have developed and made our behaviour simple and predictable.
The final common factor that Feldman describes as instrumental in developing group norms are the behaviours that are carried over from one organization to another. These behaviours may range from dress codes to more official matters such as privacy and confidentiality. Such norms make transitions between organizations and groups smoother and expected behaviour is adhered to more naturally. This helps with a new member’s assimilation into a group and helps to avoid awkward and embarrassing situations.
Feldman states that behaviours that are carried over from one organisation to another are what will often distinguish the roles and regulations of that particular occupation or profession, that is, carry-over behaviours that are often specific to a certain type of group. This form of development is also evident in this tutorial group, as certain traits appear to have been carried-over from earlier education. This can include positive things such as keeping quiet during oral presentations and arriving to class on time, but may also include negative aspects if a group member’s previous environment embodied those particular traits.
Conclusion Daniel Feldman’s article ‘The Development and Enforcement of Group Norms’ shows that there are reasons why group behaviours develop and reasons for them to be enforced. It is important to remember that a good leader or manager understands how group norms develop and why they are enforced so that they have better control over a group’s behaviour and can ensure errors of judgement are much less likely to occur. Group norms can be good or bad. When they directly create good decisions or enable a group’s social consideration to come second to making decisions, organisations run smoothly.
When group norms obstruct objectivity or reduce the ability of a group to think cohesively, Janis’ groupthink occurs and bad decisions are made that cause the collapse of a company like ENRON Corporation or the invasion of a country. The next time you interact with people consider how they and you are being affected by group norms. Bibliography House, R. , Watt, A. & Williams, J. (2004) ‘Teaching Enron: The Rhetoric and Ethics of Whistle blowing’. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, v47 (4):244-255. Janis, I. L. (1972) ‘Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos’.
Houghton Mifflin Company. U. S. A. Janis, I. L. & Mann, L. (1977) ‘Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment’. Macmillan Publishing Co. , Inc. New York. Sarra, J. (2002) ‘Rose Colored Glasses, Opaque Financial Reporting and Investor Blues: Enron as Con and the Vulnerability of Canadian Corporate Law’. 76 St. John’s L. Rev. 715 723. Stoeva, P. (2004) ‘Norm Development ??? The Case of the Convention against Torture’. 5th Pan-European International Relations Coference “Constructing World Orders. Netherlands.