Have you ever been in a decision-making group that you felt was heading in the wrong direction, but you didn’t speak up and say so? If so, you have already been a victim of groupthink. Groupthink is a group pressure phenomenon that increases the risk of the group making flawed decisions by leading to reduced mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment. Groupthink is characterized by eight symptoms that include:1Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Illusion of invulnerability shared by most or all of the group members that creates excessive optimism and encourages them to take extreme risks.
- Collective rationalizations where members downplay negative information or warnings that might cause them to reconsider their assumptions.
- An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality that may incline members to ignore ethical or moral consequences of their actions.
- Stereotyped views of out-groups are seen when groups discount rivals’ abilities to make effective responses.
- Direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments.
- Self-censorship when members of the group minimize their own doubts and counterarguments.
- Illusions of unanimity based on self-censorship and direct pressure on the group; the lack of dissent is viewed as unanimity.
- The emergence of self-appointed mindguards where one or more members protect the group from information that runs counter to the group’s assumptions and course of action.
Groups tend to suffer from symptoms of groupthink when they are large and when the group is cohesive because the members like each other.2Esser, J. K. (1998). Alive and well after 25 years: A review of groupthink research. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 73, 116–141; Mullen, B., Anthony, T., Salas, E., & Driskell, J. E. (1994). Group cohesiveness and quality of decision making: An integration of tests of the groupthink hypothesis. Small Group Research, 25, 189–204. The assumption is that the more frequently a group displays one or more of the eight symptoms, the worse the quality of their decisions will be.
However, if your group is cohesive, it is not necessarily doomed to engage in groupthink. The following are some recommendations that can be implemented to avoid groupthink
- Discuss the symptoms of groupthink and how to avoid them.
- Assign a rotating devil’s advocate to every meeting. (The devil’s advocate intentionally takes on the role of critic. Their job is to point out flawed logic, to challenge the group’s evaluations of various alternatives, and to identify weaknesses in proposed solutions. This pushes the other group members to think more deeply about the advantages and disadvantages of proposed solutions before reaching a decision and implementing it.)
- Invite experts or qualified colleagues who are not part of the core decision-making group to attend meetings, and get reactions from outsiders on a regular basis and share these with the group.
- Encourage a culture of difference where different ideas are valued.
- Debate the ethical implications of the decisions and potential solutions being considered.
- Monitor their own behavior for signs of groupthink and modify behavior if needed.
- Check themselves for self-censorship.
- Carefully avoid mindguard behaviors.
- Avoid putting pressure on other group members to conform.
- Remind members of the ground rules for avoiding groupthink if they get off track.
Group leaders should:
- Break the group into two subgroups from time to time.
- Have more than one group work on the same problem if time and resources allow it. This makes sense for highly critical decisions.
- Remain impartial and refrain from stating preferences at the outset of decisions.
- Set a tone of encouraging critical evaluations throughout deliberations.
- Create an anonymous feedback channel where all group members can contribute to if desired.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.