We all want to be part of the crowd. We want to belong.

From an ethics perspective, conforming to group norms can be good but it can also be very, very bad.

Groupthink is defined as the practice of approaching issues as matters to be dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals acting independently. Groupthink can lead collective rationalization, lack of personal accountability and pressure to acquiesce. Groupthink is a common factor in bad decision-making and serious ethical breaches. 

Groupthink often sets up an “us vs them” mentality that results in marginalizing individuals who disagree with the group – or at least the dominant interests of the group. This "professional shunning" is a major reason why many professionals do not report unethical behavior.

Standing up for what you believe is often difficult.

It is even more difficult when you are subjected to shunning or personal attacks. Yet these are common means employed by those justifying their positions and behavior when groupthink is in play. It is also not unusual for those engaging in unethical behavior to claim that it is the dissenters who are acting unethically – not them.

Smart leaders understand the importance of dissension. They take precautions to prevent groupthink from taking hold. They seek out dissenters and actively work to address their concerns. They establish safeguards to prevent groupthink from occurring, such as setting up formal processes to actively encourage the voicing of dissenting opinions.

OHS professionals also need to be able to recognize when they find themselves in a situation where groupthink is at play. OHS professionals need to understand the dangers of these situations and be prepared to take actions to avoid being drawn into being a participant in unethical behavior.

Often the line between good behavior, questionable behavior and unethical behavior is not clear.  That is why developing good decision-making strategies is important.  It is also important to periodically step back and independently assess decisions being made by a group. You need to ask yourself - "Is the group decision the right decision?"

It is important to remember that being in the majority does not necessarily mean being “right.”