What is Groupthink? The term was devised in the 1970s by the American psychologist Irving Janis, who analyzed group decision-making in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He defined group think as a form of decision-making characterized by uncritical acceptance of a prevailing point of view. It is a form of collective delusion, where bizarre policies are rationalized collectively and contradictory evidence is discredited. Members of the group suffer an illusion of both invulnerability and morality, and construct negative stereotypes of outsiders.
When Does Groupthink Occur? Group think is likely to occur when the following conditions exist
- When groups are highly cohesive.
- Isolation of the group from outside influences.
- Examining few alternatives.
- Not being critical of each other’s ideas.
- Not examining early alternatives.
- Not seeking expert opinion.
- Being highly selective in gathering information.
- Not having contingency plans.
- Under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.
- No systematic procedures for considering both the pros and cons of different courses of action.
- With a directive leader who explicitly favors a particular course of action.
Symptoms of Groupthink
- Having an illusion of invulnerability, morality, and unanimity.
- Collective rationalization of poor decisions.
- Believing in the group’s morality.
- Pressure on dissenters.
- Self-censorship of dissent.
- Self-appointed mind guards.
- Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision.
- Not expressing your true feelings.
- Maintaining an illusion of unanimity.
- Using mindguards to protect the group from negative information.
Solutions to Groupthink Include
- Establish an open climate.
- Leaders should remain impartial and avoid being too directive.
- Using a policy-forming group which reports to the larger group.
- Using different policy groups for different tasks.
- Divide into groups and then discuss differences within the larger group.
- Use outside experts.
- Use a Devil’s advocate to question all the group’s ideas.
- Hold a “second-chance meeting” to offer one last opportunity to choose another course of action.
Once you look beyond business, we are all victims of or willing participants in groupthink. Everything from religious dogmas to economic systems to political ideologies provide examples of groupthink on a macro or micro level. We only get to see it and challenge it when the wheels fall off.
Examples of Groupthink. Here are some classic examples of groupthink on a world scale.
- The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor kills more than 2,300 Americans.
- 1,300 members of a CIA-supported force storms the beaches of Cuba.
- The Challenger explosion claims the lives of all seven members of its crew.
- U.S. intelligence community suffered from collective group think in its assessment of the threat poised by Saddam Hussein.
A classic example of Group think in the Kennedy administration.
In the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy’s decision-makers were all in accord that the inhabitants of Cuba would rise up against Castro as soon as there was a sign of an armed invasion. So he helped train and finance a group of American/Cuban fighters and was prepared to then move in once there was a widespread insurrection. It was a fiasco. But he learned a valuable lesson.
From that point on, when dealing with major decisions that had to be made, he saw to it that least one person was involved who was strongly opposed to the conventional wisdom so that he would always get different points of view. This approach was used in the Cuban missile crisis, where the group truly weighed several different alternatives. There was still a risk, but we went forward with eyes open and the results were much better.
Have you seen signs of groupthink in groups you’re working with? What can you do about it?
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