Avoiding Professional Groupthink

Avoiding Professional Groupthink

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that happens when someone or an in-group proposes a belief, action, or decision with great certainty, and others go along for the sake of harmony or to avoid conflict. As a result, dissenting viewpoints are suppressed, and independent thinking is strongly discouraged.

While groupthink is generally thought to occur at the community or national level (for example, consider our political parties today), it also can be found within an agency or organization. This can happen especially when there is external threat to the organization, when there is a charismatic leader, or when there is a lack of diversity in the workplace.

Recent emphasis has been placed on gender diversity, racial or ethnic diversity, and diversity of age or generational groups, and these are all important. However, one area that may be overlooked is diversity of professional background and training. Depending on the mission or focus of the organization, one professional group may dominate. For example, a social service agency usually hires social workers. A computer company needs computer experts. Yet, limiting staff to only one professional viewpoint can lead to a lack of creative thinking, even faulty decision making.

In health care, a multidisciplinary team is considered the ideal. The hospice mandate, which includes physicians, nurses, social workers, bereavement counselors, clergy, and volunteers, shows the value of such professional diversity. While there may be overlap in the views and training of the group members, there also are important differences which can better inform the care plan for the patient and family.

While your work setting may not have the luxury or the ability to hire such a diverse team, it is still important to guard against homogeneity, collective ideology, group isolation, and groupthink. This can be avoided by leaders who encourage individual and creative thought, and who guard against group complacency. For non-profit organizations, adding some staff diversity in professional background or ensuring a diverse Board of Directors can be essential. Using an outside expert or consultant when doing strategic planning or for staff training is often beneficial.

On the individual level, seeking new and varied continuing education experiences, keeping up with the latest developments in your field, and attending conferences and meetings that include other disciplines can help expand your professional knowledge and skills and keep you current.

Groupthink can, and often does, lead to poor decisions, poor service or outcomes, negative views of the group, and even financial or organizational failures. Be certain you don’t succumb to groupthink due to feeling intimidated, because you want to be liked, or from complacency or laziness. Instead, evaluate situations carefully, engage in critical thinking, give credence to differing opinions, and be independent in your thinking. After all, isn’t that what your professional training taught you to do?

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