How to Avoid Groupthink in Healthcare Teams

Healthcare team leaders are often faced with a unique set of circumstances when building strong healthcare teams. Building a cohesive healthcare team capable of making important team decisions is an integral task, but one that comes with risks healthcare leaders need to be aware of. One such risk is the phenomenon called groupthink, which is the tendency for highly cohesive groups to lose their critical evaluative capabilities. For example, members of very cohesive teams may publicly agree with courses of action decided on by the team, but may privately have serious doubts about them. This is because strong feelings of loyalty for the healthcare team can make it hard for team members to criticize and evaluate one another’s ideas and suggestions.

Healthcare team leaders need to temper the desire to hold the team together by avoiding disagreements with the fact that by doing so, the team will likely make poor decisions and cease to be as creative and effective as it needs to be. Healthcare team leaders should be on the lookout for the warning signs of groupthink in order to act quickly to minimize its effects. Below are a few examples of how groupthink can disrupt a healthcare team, and what a healthcare team leader can do to prevent them:

  • Illusions of invulnerability: Team members may assume the team is too good for criticism or beyond attack. This is a dangerous scenario for obvious reasons. To avoid this situation, team leaders should invite respected outside experts to observe the team, react to team processes and decisions, and if necessary, destroy illusions of invulnerability.
  • Rationalizing unpleasant and disconfirming data: When team members refuse to accept contradictory data or consider alternatives thoroughly, it becomes clear that team processes, ideas, and decisions are not being held up to strict standards. Team leaders need to question results thoroughly to ensure any contradictory data has not been left out.
  • Having illusions of unanimity: Team members may start to accept consensus on ideas or decisions prematurely without testing their completeness or efficacy. When confronting this issue, team leaders should create sub-teams to work on the same problems and then share their proposed solutions.

It’s also important to note that healthcare team leaders must always remain impartial to proposed processes, ideas, and decisions, since their leadership role carries great weight. Allowing team members to express themselves freely is a vital component in the fight against groupthink, and team leaders should not stifle this process in any way. A strong, cohesive healthcare team is an essential asset to any hospital, but great care must be taken to make sure the team operates under the best circumstances possible, and avoiding groupthink is a key factor in this process.

For more information about building strong healthcare teams, please download our free eBook Fostering Creativity in Healthcare Teams.

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