First, what is Groupthink?
Groupthink was discovered as an undesirable by-product of group cohesiveness by a psychologist named Irving Janis. He further defined groupthink as a “mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
What are the symptoms of Groupthink?
Excessive Optimism Assumptions of Inherent Morality
Suppression of Dissent Desperate Quests for Unanimity
- These symptoms create a decision-making climate where the probability of making a poor decision is very high.
Real World Examples and Their Consequences
Swissair’s Collapse: Thought to be so financially stable that people referred to it as the “Flying Bank.” Poor decision-making processes eventually led to its collapse.
Symptoms: The belief that the group is invulnerable and the belief in the morality of the group.
Lack of expertise, similar backgrounds / norms and pressure to conform were also present.
Consequences: Collapse of Swissair
Vietnam: Groupthink is believed to be main reason for the war. Strategic advisors in 3 successive administrations rubber-stamped battle plans laced with false assumptions.
Symptoms: Groupthink prevented contradictory views to the war from being expressed and subsequently evaluated.
Consequences: 58,220 United States servicemen died.
Newly studied areas of groupthink outside of Politics and Business where symptoms were present.
Major League Umpire Association: In 1999, the Major League Baseball Association staged a mass resignation in a failed attempt to gain a stronger negotiating stance.
Symptoms: The umpires overestimated the power that they had over the baseball league and the strength of their group’s resolve. There was the presence of self-censorship; some umpires who disagreed with the decision to resign failed to voice their dissent.
Consequences: Failed strategy, Major League Baseball accepted their resignations, 22 umpires were out of jobs and eventually replaced.
Groupthink Consequences and Preventing Them
Previous examples show how groupthink can have devastating consequences. In some cases, thousands of lost lives have been associated with it.
How can we prevent groupthink?
According to Irving Janis, there are some things we can do to improve decision quality in cohesive groups but groupthink will always be a threat.
Most Important: Group members must always ask, “Are we allowing ourselves to become victims of groupthink?”
Fundamental prevention measures:
- Avoid the use of groups to rubber-stamp decisions.
- Urge each group member to be a critical evaluator.
- Bring in outside experts for fresh perspectives.
- Assign someone the role of challenging assumptions.
- Take time to consider possible consequences of action.
Kreitner, Robert. Management. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2009. Book.
By David Rice, Business (Computer Information Systems) Major-Indiana University Purdue University Columbus