Don’t Become a Victim of Groupthink

Groupthink | Phenomenal Image

As more companies use collaboration to manage teams, leaders should become aware of groupthink.  Groupthink is the mindless compliance of group members to avoid the potential of negative views within the group.   Groupthink presents challenges to mental efficiency, reality testing and ethics (Kinicki & Kreitner, 2009).

Groupthink is dysfunctional because members of the team try to be unanimous in thought.  The group ignores external information that could help the group decide the best course of action to a situation. This poses a high risk in error as all solutions are not considered. 

Groupthink can lead to concurrence seeking.  Members of the group may discourage discussion to avoid disagreements and reviewing alternatives. 

Because these groups often appear harmonic, groupthink is hard to notice.  This type of decision making is toxic because the group is not being realistic.   The group believes its correct and becomes defensive. It considers itself above reproach.  

So how can you identify whether groupthink occurs in your group? 

Signs of Groupthink

Characteristics of groupthink include:

Self-Censorship:  Conversations toward considering alternatives are strongly discouraged; giving the appearance of group consensus.

Illusion of unanimity: No one speaks up in the group, so each team member assumes that everyone in the group is in agreement.

Peer pressure: Each member in the group is pressured to conform to the group.

Illusion of invulnerability:  The group believes their thinking is flawless and are above reproach.  The group optimistically decides they made the best decision despite not considering all options.

Inherent morality:  Members of the group ignore any ethical issues that may exist from their decision.  Their flawed thinking allows them to believe they are morally correct.

So how does one overcome groupthink?

Overcome Groupthink

The best way to overcome groupthink is prevention*.   Best practices** include:

1. Assigning each group member as critical evaluator.   Their job is to voice any objections and doubts.

2. Senior leaders should avoid using policy committees to rubber-stamp decisions that are already made.  Create a subgroup and use outside experts to provide a fresh perspective.

3. Assign the role of devil’s advocate to someone else to uncover every conceivable negative factor.

4. Once consensus is reached, each member should rethink their position to double-check for flaws.

Groupthink can sabotage the best intentions of team management.  By taking a proactive approach to prevent groupthink, organizations can maximize productivity. 

 

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*Kinicki, A. & Kreitner, R. (2009). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills & bes practices. Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin; Janis, I.L. ibid.

**Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-31704-5.; Johnson, D.W., & Johnson, F.P. (2009).
Joining together: Group theory and group skills (10th ed.). New York: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. ISBN: 9780536078001

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Nancy Kirk-Gettridge is founder of Phenomenal Image, an executive development firm focused on helping her clients gain confidence and take control of their careers. Confronting workplace challenges and her own limiting beliefs, Nancy is committed to helping her clients see themselves as qualified leaders and risk-takers. Nancy frequently writes about resolving gender bias in the workplace. Key topics include career management, leadership training/development, succession planning and overcoming workplace issues.
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