“The tribe often thinks the visionary has turned his back on them. When, in fact, the visionary has simply turned his face to the future.” ― Ray A. Davis
Groupthink is a phenomenon that can cause even the most successful organizations to stumble. Groupthink is a set of circumstances that leads groups of people to believe in their ideas so strongly they don’t consider alternative courses of action or opinions. As a result, groupthink hinders collaboration, biases decisions, and generates poor or disastrous outcomes. As a business owner or manager, it’s important to recognize when groupthink is threatening innovation, creativity, idea sharing and profitability – and know how best to counteract it. In this blog post, we’ll discuss tactics you can use to help prevent groupthink in your organization.
What is groupthink?
Groupthink is a term initially coined by psychologist Irving Janis in 1971, he wrote:
“I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures.” – Irving Janis
The phenomenon occurs when a group concludes without adequately evaluating the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink often comes from a desire to maintain the harmony and synergy of the group.
What is a well-known example of groupthink?
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. Nasa space shuttle engineers were aware of faulty parts months before the launch. However, because of fears of getting negative press coverage, they did not act on their knowledge of the situation and allowed the launch to proceed.
What are the causes of groupthink?
There is no single cause of groupthink, and it is only known to be harmful when mistakes happen. Some broad factors that encourage groupthink include conformity, overconfidence, censorship, and unquestioned beliefs. Hence, groupthink psychology prevents individuals from acting upon judgments amid a majority pressure to conform. Other contributing circumstances include:
- Group dynamics
- Overall group isolation
- Group leadership
- Decision-making stress
- Organizational culture
For instance, high levels of cohesiveness can decrease the probability of verbal dissension due to interpersonal pressure to conform. And this cohesiveness facilitates the appearance of collaborative-unanimity within small teams and large organizations.
Note: Strong friendships in organizations can lead to groupthink.
Does groupthink happen in businesses?
Businesses fall prey to groupthink when managers and employees begin prioritizing their reputation within the organization over finding the correct solution to a problem or avoidance of catastrophe.
When does it happen?
Groupthink occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or observing due diligence because of organization dynamics. Unhealthy conformity is based on an individual’s desire not to upset balance and harmony. For example, failure to offer an alternative point of view because of concerns about how peers or managers will interpret it could lead to costly mistakes.
Signs of Organizational Groupthink:
Collective rationalization, lack of personal accountability, and pressure to conform lead to groupthink. The following are common signs that increase the chances of poor decision-making and reduced ethical standards in organizations:
- Censoring the ideas and opinions of team members and yourself
- Giving in to peer pressure to speak the truth about a situation
- Rationalizing the wrong solution or incorrect interpretation of facts
- Completely disregarding the opposing opinion, solution, or ideas
- Individuals who actively ensure that leaders do not hear alternate ideas or solutions.
- Overconfidence about a solution that prevents further investigation or assessment of facts, decisions, or plans
- Unanimous agreement on a solution without fully exploring a situation or problem
In sum, creating an environment that encourages accountability, the free flow of ideas, and social barriers that hinder the sharing of opinions is essential. Lastly, it is critical NOT to penalize individuals that do not agree with the group decision or interpretation of facts. A team member should feel free to express their opinion without fear of reprisal.
Tips for Avoiding Groupthink
Groupthink can be a dangerous phenomenon that can occur when a group of people make decisions or come to conclusions based on the opinion of the majority rather than critical thinking and individual analysis.
- Design diverse teams (backgrounds, organizational functions, genders, etc.)
- Encourage and show gratitude when people share their ideas
- Engage independent evaluation, i.e.: third part consultation
- Maintaining an organized work environment
- Remain receptive to all sources of information
- Allow debate and healthy conflict into decision making
- Play the role of (constructive) devil’s advocate
- Managers and leaders should refrain from offering opinions during brainstorming sessions.
“Societal peer pressure to conform runs strong, but as more of us continue to think and act for ourselves, rather than be under the influence of group-think, we begin to make more effective choices.” ― Evita Ochel
As business owners and managers, it is vital to be aware of the costly pitfalls of groupthink. By understanding and identifying the signs of this phenomenon, leaders can better protect their organizations from inefficient or potentially dangerous decision-making processes. In addition, actively encouraging debate, divergent opinions, and open dialogue within groups can help prevent groupthink and create a more open-minded and productive environment for your team. Don’t let a false sense of agreement rob your organization’s performance; take proactive steps to ensure groupthink does not get in the way of organizational success!
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