Monday, September 15, 2008

Groupthink

I've been thinking about groups quite a bit lately. I've been on-again, off-again reading Eckhart Tolle's book "A New Earth" and some of the concepts in his book have led me to think about groups and roles. I think Tolle is leaning more towards the roles we play as individuals, but I really enjoy learning about and studying groups, so his book has been a catalyst for me to examine some of the groups of which I am a part. One of my favorite subjects in undergrad was Social Psychology. I loved it! I think that class was one of the reasons I was led to go into social work, because it is all about learning how people function in social situations, groups, and how they process the world around them.

Okay, so in my processing, I've been thinking about not only the roles I play as an individual, but also the roles I play in groups. I'm a self-proclaimed introvert (and Myers-Briggs agrees with me!!), so groups have always been more challenging for me than not. I've found that once I'm fully enmeshed in a group, I can function quite well. However, it really depends on the group. Groups are typically made up of folks that have the same beliefs, attitudes, and/or values. They have a common purpose. I recall one time I attended an AA group, because it was a requirement of my internship at a drug recovery program. Well, if you've ever been to any type of recovery program, visitors are always noticed, and usually called upon for introductions. It goes something like this:
Leader: "I see we have some visitors today! Please introduce yourselves and let us know why you are here."
Visitor: "Hi, my name is _______. I'm here for _____."

When I attended this group and it came time for me to introduce myself, I simply stated my name and said that I was observing the group as part of my graduate work as a social worker ( in hindsight, I could have handled this much differently!!). Not only was there a stunned silence following my proclamation, but I also noticed immediate tension in the room. I was officially an outsider. The people who had become enmeshed in that group could not see that I might have a single thing in common with them, and therefore I did not Belong. Has this ever happened to you?

Even within groups, there are sub-groups of people that might have their own thoughts about things. It reminds me of my church: we have two services. One is traditional and one is contemporary. While we are all Christian and all Methodist (thereby part of the same "group"), some folks from either service feel as though they are different from the other. I don't know if this thought process leads them to think that the other group does not Belong, but perhaps it comes close.

My thought is this: how can we function in a group with a common purpose if others in the group have their own agenda? This happens in every group, and I think that sometimes it leads to dissolution of the group. In some groups, the leader of the group maintains the general "voice" and this can sometimes drown out the subgroup. I believe it can go either way: either the subgroup can weaken the group and it's purpose, or the subgroup can strengthen the group's purpose. I think it depends on how strong and competent the subgroup (or individual) is, as well as the competency level of the leader on group processes.


All in all, I find it fascinating to observe the multiple groups to which I belong. They are all different, and I learn from each one. They all help me grow in my respective "roles" as an individual, and our world could not function without groups.

What do you think? Have you ever observed a group that did not have some form of sub-group? How effective was the leader of the group? Have you ever been a leader of a group and felt the group losing it's commonality, and what was done about it? Have you ever been part of a group that "evicted" the sub-group or individuals which had their own underlying agenda? And how can we overcome these issues within groups while still maintaining a level of cohesiveness?

1 comment:

T.Bone Gal said...

I've been there! Not cool! I start looking for a hole to crawl into or something really hip to say . . . neither of which I find.