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What is Groupthink
Groupthink is under certain circumstances almost inevitable mechanism that leads a group composed of even extremely intelligent people to completely wrong conclusions.

“We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t.”

Frank A. Clark

In the sixties, the U.S. President John F. Kennedy put together one of the intellectually strongest teams of presidential advisors in the history of USA. Yet the U.S. didn’t avoid the debacle at the Bay of Pigs, where it shamefully failed in the attempt to remove the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

This and other similar failures of a group of top experts in the group decision making process intrigued American psychologist Irving Janis, who came up with the theory of groupthink. Janis under certain conditions conceives groupthink as an almost inevitable socio-psychological mechanism that leads the group composed of even extremely intelligent people to completely wrong conclusions.

Groupthink can be almost inevitably identified under the following conditions:

  • The situation is not perceived realistically
  • Realistic views have a chance to succeed (“they don’t want to be heard”)
  • The group is separated from the external environment (isolation from outside stimuli)
  • The group is highly cohesive
  • The group works under the pressure of external threats
  • There is developed very intense stress
  • The group is under pressure because the decision has to be fast

Such situation leads to the development of eight symptoms of groupthink:

  • Develops the illusion of invulnerability
  • Strengthens an unshakeable belief in the morality of group behavior
  • There is a collective rationalization of group decision
  • Develops shared intellectual stereotypes and attitudes, especially to opponents who are ridiculed
  • Applies self-censorship, the group members do not show critical and everyone pretends to agree
  • Succeeds an illusion of unanimity and group members gain a false sense of consensus - nobody outside resists the decision
  • Representatives of other opinions are put under pressure and forced to change their mind
  • There are “guardians of thought” who censor different opinions and negative information from outside

According to Janis groupthink leads to these seven errors in decision making:

  • All alternatives are insufficiently explored
  • The group departs from the original objectives
  • The group does not adequately consider the risks of the solution
  • Once rejected alternatives have no chance to be re-admitted
  • The collection of information in the group is unsystematic and incomplete
  • Group filters information and suppresses undesirable ones
  • There is no alternative plan in case of failure of the solution¨

According to Janis, there are several good ways to avoid the trap of groupthink:

  • Leader entrusts each member of the critical role of the proposals assessor, so that everyone can express objections and doubts
  • Executives in the group must not express their views in advance that their authority does not affect other
  • Several groups working in parallel teams to solve the problem are established
  • All reasonable alternatives are explored, none is previously discarded
  • Each group member has the right to consult the ideas of the group with someone from outside
  • The group may invite to its meetings an outside expert
  • At least one member of the group should play the role of devil’s advocate, which systematically comes with counterclaims and disputes the decision of the group. At each meeting it should be a different person

In addition, the following steps can be recommended:

  • Check whether there has been any of the seven errors in decision making
  • Systematically gaining into the group individuals who are known for their nonconformity
  • The group leader decides individually, after having heard the views of the group members

Related terms and methods:

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Last update: 03.07.2015

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