Friend Group Norms

What is the difference between your team at work and your group of friends?

Not much, it seems.

In my line of work, I help leadership teams and intact teams work on their cohesiveness as a group. Part of that includes helping the team develop agreed upon norms, or standard behaviors, which they will demonstrate and to which they will hold each other accountable.

When a team at work lacks norms, there is no alignment and accountability is hard because there is no set expectation of what it means to be on that team and how people are supposed to show up for themselves and each other. Conflict can become unhealthy and the team will struggle to communicate effectively.

Over time I have learned something very interesting: Work teams are similar to our own friend groups. Everyone has a role in the group. Some lead, some support, some plan, etc. The group must communicate and the goal is to get along. A group identity can be established.

I learned this with my own friend group. I started to observe similar patterns emerging in our group that I saw at work. One night, when several of us were just hanging out, one of my best friends made the joke that our group should have “commandments” (norms). I quickly agreed and offered to help to make that real. My role is “Human Resources” and they call me “HR” because of my background and experience. I facilitated a brainstorming session with them on what they should be. I made sure we considered each other and also others as they perceive and engage with us and vice versa.

Our friend group is a sisterhood named BSD and we came up with the BSD “commandments”:

  1. Be equitable and inclusive – We value diversity and inclusion of all people is important to us. We also understand that everyone has different starting points and barriers (especially in gay culture) and have make sure we are cognizant of that. We want people to feel safe to be their authentic self around each other.
  2. Buddy system – We always want to make sure that we are with a “sister” and that no one is left behind or on their own. This is especially important for us at large parties where it is easy to get lost or separated.
  3. Supportive sisters – We have some friends who host parties or get togethers and so we committed to supporting those sisters either financially by buying for the parties or time in helping setup or clean up.
  4. Proactive communication – We committed to sharing open and honest feedback with each other proactively, while also being respectful and sensitive to others’ feelings.
  5. Love thy sister – This commandment is to remind us that we love each other and that trust and loyalty are important for us as sisters. We can support each other in times of need, keep secrets when necessary, and just be committed to each other.

In my last post, I discussed why friendship is important. Friend groups are also an important part of our social lives. They provide us with companionship, support, and a sense of belonging. Friend groups need their own set of norms that dictate how people should behave and interact with one another. You have to be intentional about this though.

Norms will always emerge within a friend group. It is the nature of groups and it cannot be helped. I have met groups of friends that have some positive unspoken norms among them. I have friend groups in Phoenix and Indianapolis who share similar norms to my friend group in Detroit and we get along beautifully. I have also met some friend groups that have negative norms, like shit-talking, backstabbing, unhealthy conflict, cliques, which lead to exclusion or unhealthy relationships. I have met some people who are miserable because of their friends. That is not really my vibe.

The norms of your friend group also play a large part in your brand to other people. How you engage with other people is how you are perceived by others. I have met some cold, unfriendly, and stuck up people before. That immediately painted a picture of who they are and let me know that wasn’t where I wanted to spend my energy. I am grateful for the compliments my friend group gets because people like to be around us. We have been asked about our dynamic and we have shared our commandments with everyone open and freely.

Maintaining group norms is essential for the long-term health of a friend group. When norms are violated, it can lead to conflict, tension, and even the breakdown of the group. Therefore, it’s important for members to be aware of the norms and to actively work to uphold them. This involves accountability and alignment. Those become much easier and way less scary when the group has all committed to the norms. Conflict becomes a lot easier to navigate too.

Is your friend group reflective of the values that mean the most to you? You are judged by the company that you keep.

If you want to create norms for you friend group, consider the following:

  1. What are your shared values?
  2. How do you want to show up for each other?
  3. How does your friend group want to be known?
  4. Be clear about what you expect! Leave nothing unspoken.
  5. How will you share them and embed them into your group?

Your responses to these questions will become your norms. Make sure every voice is heard and every idea is considered.

I also recommend limiting your norms to around 5 and no more than 7. Try to keep them short as well. More than 5-7 and longer sentences makes it hard to remember them.

If you find yourself stuck, I asked ChatGBT about common norms among friend groups and was not surprised when it shared these 5 (which perfectly align with my friend group!). You can use these as a starting point as well:

  1. Shared activities
  2. Trust and loyalty
  3. Inclusiveness
  4. Communication
  5. Conflict resolution

Lastly, norms can change over time. If something doesn’t work for the group, add, remove, or change norms. Make the norms fit the group. Do not weaponize the norms either. They are there to support the group.

I am so happy that my friends and I created this structure for us because I know that it positively impacted out friendship and made us all closer. We have our commandments saved in a shared note and we talk about them so much that they are ingrained into everything that we do.

Friend groups are an important part of our social lives, and they operate according to their own set of norms. By being aware of these norms and actively working to uphold them, friends can ensure that their group remains strong, supportive, and inclusive over the long term.


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