A key question underlying our belief in organizations as living systems is: Can a group take on an identity that is some way distinct from the individuals that comprise it? Can a group develop a “groupmind”? Is there something else, something more than the simple sum of individuals, that is real and not just a metaphor used whenever a journalist refers to the “soul” or the “heart” or the “character” of the nation?
Groupmind is the word that has been used to describe the concept of a supra-individual nature and independence of the collective mind of a social group. The concept goes back at least to the German philosopher Hegel, who felt that individual minds are active participants of a larger social mind, concepts that later influenced Marx and Engels (and this latter influence may help explain why this concept has evoked such controversy over the year)[1, 2].
It was Durkheim who first used the term “groupmind” to refer to collective consciousness. He suggested that large groups of people sometimes acted with a single mind and that rather than being merely collections of individuals they were linked by some unifying force that went beyond any single individual, a force so strong that the will of the individual could be completely dominated by the will of the group .
William McDougall, a psychologist at Harvard and one of the first social psychologists, was convinced that a society is more than the mere sum of the mental lives of its units, “a complete knowledge of the units, if and in so far as they could be known as isolated units, would not enable us to deduce the nature of the life of the whole” (p.7).
This is a premise that has been historically controversial and debatable and continues to be so today. Floyd Allport, considered the founder of social psychology, termed the idea of “groupmind” the “group fallacy” in the 1920’s and fiercely defended the premise that the actions of all are nothing more than the sum of the actions of each taken separately and that all one needed to do to understand the behavior of groups was to understand the behavior of individuals within the group .
The reality of a “groupmind” is difficult to prove - or disprove for that matter. There are some hints that point to a reality beyond that of the individual that come out of social psychology, group therapy, family therapy, and the therapeutic community. We can only cautiously generalize from the study of dyads, small and medium size groups, to the study of large groups and whole societies, and yet it is vitally important that we open up a larger discussion about similarities just as we may be open to differences (Moses, 1995).
Our national and global problems have simply become too big and too interconnected for individually-based solutions. As Robin Skynner pointed out, “In common with most students of large-group phenomenon I am impressed with their power for good or ill. Though as yet we do not have even the rudiments of a truly scientific explanation, it is as if some form of energy is generated when a number of people interact, proportional in some way to the numbers involved and available, like any other form of energy, for constructive or destructive purposes”.
Studies of military units convincingly demonstrated that individuals would sacrifice their own lives for the well-being of the group. Grinker and Spiegel noted that this result could not be explained by the simple sum of individual motivations but of some intense loyalty stimulated by close identification with the group. “The relationship between the individual and his group is like a pulsation that varies in amplitude under different conditions. There seem to be optimum degrees of independent individualization and dependence on a group for each person... in times of danger the pulsation extends further out to the group; in times of peace it remains closer to the individual” . We know that attachment behavior is increased in times of danger. This has been well-documented in many mammalian species and makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. For a highly social animal like homo sapiens, it also makes sense that danger would evoke a group response as well, so that increased danger would lead to increased identification with and loyalty to, the group.
In one study, Smith, Kaminstein, and Maradok (1995) looked at the possibility that the collective dynamics of an organization may lead to individual illness. Although it is well established that physically toxic environments can produce illness, these authors raised the question about the consequences of emotionally noxious environments. In their study of 13,000 employees in sixteen organizations, they found that there is a significant connection between employee health and organizational dynamics of their workplaces. The health of workers improved or worsened based on four major variables: a) the degree of difficulty in maintaining a balance between work and personal life; b) the respect afforded workers by management; c) the extent to which decision‐making can lead the worker to appropriate actions; and d) the amount of racial and gender discrimination. 
Another interesting observation comes from Poland. Group therapists working in a day hospital program in Poland noticed that there was a relationship between behavior in their therapeutic community and larger social unrest during 1980 and 1981 and again in 1992 and 1993. Bursts of anti‐authoritarian behavior directed at nonauthoritarian therapists occurred regularly one or two days prior to the unheralded eruption of strikes or other anti‐government demonstrations. This suggested to the authors that the responsivity of emotionally vulnerable groups of people may serve as early warning signals of forthcoming outbreaks of aggression in the larger sociopolitical milieu, a sort of “sociopolitical canaries” phenomenon (Aleksandrowicz & Czepowicz, 1995). 
If he were alive today, Dr. Allport might be a little uncomfortable with such fierce denial of collective experience because of a number of converging discoveries, advances, and dialogues: out of chaos and complexity theory has come the idea of emergence; the concept of collective intelligence is a vibrant area of exploration; the Internet, cell phones, and all communication technologies are wiring together people from around the globe in unexpected and unpredictable ways; and a long list of hard-core scientists have been demonstrating the relational and molecular substrate for social interactions that takes us out of the realm of speculation or science fiction and plunges us right into brain science .
Hewstone, M., et al., Introduction To Social Psychology. 1989, Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.
McDougall, W., The Group Mind. 1920, London: Cambridge at the University Press.
Forsyth, D.R., Group Dynamics, Second Edition. 1990, Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Grinker, R.R. and J.P. Spiegel, War Neuroses. 1945, Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company.
Aleksandrowicz, J. W. and V. D. Czepowicz (1995). Generational subgroups, the transfer of authority and the influence of group dynamics in sociopoligical and open therapeutic groups in Poland. Group Process and Political Dynamics. M. F. Ettin, J. W. Fidler and B. D. Cohen. Madison, CM, International Universities Press, Inc.: 55-68.
Smith, K. K., et al. (1995). "The health of the corporate body: Illness and organizational dynamics." The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 31(3): 328.
Siegel, D., The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. 1999, New York: Guilford Press.