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The Development of Group Norms


Explanations > Values > The Development of Group Norms

Latent conflict | Triggering event | Opposing debate | Emerging consensus | General adoption | So what?


Norms and values generally develop within groups across a process that is described below.

1. Latent conflict

The process starts with an underlying issue which includes some form of conflict, for example between different interests within the group.


In a college dorm, different sleeping patterns lead to an unspoken irritation when individuals are woken by others.

2. Triggering event

The unspoken conflict or problem continues for a while until some event occurs which brings it to the fore, turning from an unspoken to a spoken issue that needs resolving.


A student in the dorm who goes to bed early has been woken often at night by others and becomes irritable, eventually exploding in a whole tirade against one of the culprits.

3. Opposing debate

Once the issue is in the open, there is public debate, quite possibly with people choosing sides and taking positions for and against various solutions.


Students who go to bed early want a curfew. Those who get up late want early rises to go and work in the library or just be quiet.

4. Emerging consensus

With discussion and eventual understanding of the broader problem, a workable solution gradually emerges. This may be facilitated by people acting as leaders or social mediators.


The students agree that sleep is important for everyone, especially with exams coming up. They agree a 'quiet time' at either end of the day, from 10pm to 10am.

5. General adoption

With the solution agreed, the rule is generally adopted by all. There may be some transgressions which may cause revision of rules or punishment of some kind for the offenders.


Now and again people come in drunk or are a bit noisy clattering around in the sleepy morning. The offenders are spoken to by one of the group social leaders and subsequently apologize.

6. Social propagation

The rule is not written down, so it has to be taught verbally to new people. This is typically done by transgressors being taken aside and quietly told something like 'you don't do that around here'.


A new person arrives in the dorm and arrives noisily back from a night out. The next day one of the dorm members tells them in a friendly way about the ten-to-ten quiet rule.

So what?

Watch for underlying things that may become norms. You can force the issue by causing a triggering event and then facilitate the process towards a norm that makes best sense.

See also

Values Development (individuals), Groups


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