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Productive group process under the microscope in the workplace

January 8, 2018
by H. Steven Moffic
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Whether it is ethical or useful to do so, there has been a lot of speculation about the mental health of President Donald Trump. That discussion has intensified once again with the publication of “Fire and Fury.” Although the focus is on Trump. the inside reporting by the author and feedback from others in the White House inevitably brings up the question of whether the president’s inner circle is functioning well.

For obvious ethical reasons, everyone must be cautious about analyzing a public figure like Trump without personally evaluating him and then getting his permission to disclose. It may not be appropriate to analyze the group dynamics of what we have already heard and seen, including what is portrayed in the book. Rather, we must ask, what are descriptions of normal group functioning that one can apply to most any work setting, including our own?

When I received the American Psychiatric Association’s Administrative Psychiatrist Award in 2016, in my associated lecture, I pointed out what I had learned about successful leadership. First of all, leadership is to have and convey sublimated love, along with fair monitoring of realistic work expectations for the staff. As the psychiatrist Otto Kernberg has said, having a bit of paranoia can also help, particularly with fighting off envious attention.

Then, if the leader puts those principles into operation, there are benchmarks to help identify a well-functioning group. The include:

  • Mutual accountability, conveyed by ground-rules;
  • Shared contributions of particular individual skills;
  • Shared values, which are reflected in a mission statement and strategic plans that are followed;
  • Workplace group size, such as about 12 for an inner circle of trusted stuff, then with larger group circles for other functions; and
  • Norms of decision making, including what input the leader desires.

There are also signs of a group beginning to regress and function less well, including:

  • Herd mentality, wherein most everybody sticks with the group and helpful ideas squelched;
  • Bullying and scapegoating of particular staff; and
  • Group fragmentation, wherein the group informally breaks down into subgroups with their own agendas and workers feel more identification with the subgroup than the larger group.

Whether Trump’s working groups are functioning well enough needs more exploration and consideration as well as more expertise than a journalist can provide. These are some of the guidelines to do so. You may have more ideas from your own settings. If so, please email us your thoughts.



H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...

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