Groupthink may still be a hazard to your organization___________________________________________________________________________________________Prof. Dr. Murray Hunter 513 2012Hunter, Murray; Groupthink may still be a hazard to your organization; WiWi-Online.de, Hamburg,Deutschland, 2012; online im Internet unter http://www.wiwi-online.de/fachartikel.php?artikel=513;Stand*:
Groupthink may still be a hazard to your organization The groupthink hypothesis provides us with a mode of understanding how groups perceive opportunity,how exploitation decisions are made, how strategy paths are chosen, and what biases and distortions of realityexist. The term groupthink was first used by Irving Janis in 1972 to refer to the phenomena of a group comingto a consensus without critically analyzing all the various issues involved. The striving of the group forunanimity overrides the motivation to objectively appraise alternative courses of action (Janis 1972, P. 9).Janis (1982, P. 175) postulates that when the symptoms of groupthink are evident, decisions are likely to bepoor. Groupthink is a very popular term used in literature carrying with it very negative connotations. The wordis usually used to describe decisions and their resulting disasters1. Groupthink is a widely studied phenomenonand has been used to explain many historical political decisions and their resulting consequences2. Thismetaphor can lead to a better understanding how groups make their decisions, what information they used anddidn’t use, what were their underlying group assumptions and what other influential factors were involved. The groupthink phenomenon arises where individual inclinations to be critical and independently analyzeissues are sacrificed in the interests of maintaining harmony within the group so a state of cohesion can occur.This results in people providing only opinions that they believe fall into the gambit of acceptable thinking.Members sub-consciously want to be part of the group and fear embarrassment, appearing outspoken andstubborn or disruptive to the flow of the group. This is likely to be based on a feeling of low self-efficacy(Baron 2005), and results in a consensus at the cost of rationality, with potentially faulty premises and failureto look at important pieces of information and potential consequences. As any doubts are suppressed, eachmember of the group believes that the decision made had full support of all the members. According to the hypothesis, groupthink is most likely to occur when a group is very cohesive, insulatedwith lack of impartial leadership, lack procedure methodology, and have a homogeneous social backgroundand ideology (Janis 1972). The groupthink process is actually triggered by some form of an external crisis,event or failure which induces stress and feelings of low self efficacy on the group, challenging their existingdecision making processes and sometimes creating moral dilemmas. Janis (1972) postulated that the symptoms of groupthink are; The illusion of invulnerability which creates over optimism of potential success and willingness to take high risks, An inherent belief of their own morality where the consequences of their decisions are ignored, Collective rationalization where warnings, signs and messages are rationalized according to existing group assumptions, Negatively generalized and stereotyped views of external people and entities, where they view others as weak and foolish, Self censorship and pressure on dissenters to carry the group line and not express any disagreements, including the suppression of outside views disagreeing with the group, The illusion of unanimity in the belief that individual views conform to the majority view and silence means consent, Social pressure on those who have doubts about group consensus, and1 The ‘groupthink’ phenomenon only exists if the symptomatic conditions are present. ‘Groupthink’ decisions may not necessary result in a poor decision and failure. There are many other reasons besides groupthink that can lead to a poor decision and failure, for example; the lack of necessary information, poor judgment, lack of experience of the issues, luck, unexpected actions by competitors, government, and suppliers, etc., group competence, the heuristics used (discussed later in this chapter), and inadequate time for proper decision making.2 Janis (1972) first used the concept to appraise the Korean War stalemate and Vietnam War escalation. In 1982, Janis examined the Watergate cover-up. Kramer (1998) examined the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam decisions, with additional evidence casting some doubt on Janis’s analytical conclusions. Hart (1994) and Whyte (1998) enhanced the groupthink hypothesis. Smith (1984) analyzed the US rescue mission to Iran in 1979. Vaughan (1996) and Schwartz and Wald (2003) looked at the way NASA operated in relation to the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
There are self appointed ‘mind-guards’ to protect the leader and group from information that may threaten any potential group cohesiveness. Kowert (2002) also added that an overload of information may also contribute to causing the groupthinkphenomena. The result of this is a defective decision making process characterized by; The decision had an incomplete consideration of possible alternative courses of action, 2. The problem will have clearly specified objectives, 3. There was a failure to properly analyze risks of the preferred choice, 4. There was a failure to reassess earlier discarded options, 5. There was a poor information search, 6. There was bias in the selection and processing of information, and 7. No contingencies were conceived. The result of this process is a decision that has a very low probability of a successful outcome. A diagramof the groupthink process is shown in Figure 1. The effect of groupthink is to strengthen group cohesion at the cost of increasing the influence of groupbias and lowering of the quality of decisions. The groupthink hypothesis doesn’t say that all decisions will bepoor ones, only that there is a high probability that they will be poor. The hypothesis just shows one way thatgroups can get trapped within their own insular thinking and decision making process. It shows where groupsare vulnerable, especially cohesive and harmonious groups which can very easily create their own informationfilters and allow biases to influence them. When a group of people such as managers share a similar background, then there is danger of thegroupthink phenomena occurring. This may be the case in many businesses and particularly of the ChineseSMEs in South-East Asia. This situation can impair the ability of the company to grow and change into newtrajectories. Diversity of thinking in strategy is needed in environments that change quickly because ofchanging consumer demand, technologies, and intense competition (Hambrick 1995). Antecedents Observable Consequences Defective decision Decision makers are a 1. cohesive group Symptoms of groupthink making Organizational Overestimation Incomplete survey Structural Faults Vulnerability of alternatives. Insulation of group – illusion of Incomplete survey Low probability of successful outcome Lack of leader invulnerability of objectives. impartiality - Belief in inherent Failure to examine Lack of procedural morality of group risks of preferred methodology Closed Mindedness choice. Social homogeneity of - Collective Concurrence- Failure to reappraise members rationalization seeking initially rejected - Stereotyping of tendency in alternatives. group outsiders Poor information Pressures toward Provocative search. conformity Situational Context Selective bias in - Self censorship High stress from processing. - Illusion of external threat information at Unanimity Low self esteem hand. - Direct pressure on induced from recent Failure to develop dissenters failures, difficulties in contingency plans - self appointed current decision mindguards making that lower members sense of self efficacy. Moral dilemmas
3Figure 1. The Groupthink Process . The important lesson from the groupthink hypothesis is to understand the steps that can be taken to avoidthis phenomenon. There are many methods that can assist groups avoid biases and selected patterning4. Afterthe Bay of Pigs fiasco, the then US President John F. Kennedy took steps to avoid the groupthink phenomenonhappening again. He used outside expertise and promoted the thorough questioning of different viewpoints,both within the closed group and outside the group in departmental sub-groups. John F. Kennedy was alsodeliberately absent at some meetings to allow a freer flow of opinions and prevent group bias towards his ownthinking (Janis 1972 pp. 148-149). Group problem solving can be very useful, particularly when a group is socially diverse and ‘cognitivediversity’ can exist and operate. A diverse and functioning group can greatly enhance the problem solvingbecause greater knowledge is available, more ideas can be generated with better evaluation, an improvedability to find errors and a wider diversity of experience. Under the right circumstances, group thinking hasmuch superior capabilities than individual thinking (Klein 1999, P. 245). ReferencesBaron, R. S. (2005). So right it’s wrong: Groupthink and the Ubiquitous Nature of Polarized Group Decision Making, In: Zanna, M. P. (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, San Diego, Elsevier Academic Press.Hambrick, D.C. (1995). Fragmentation and the other problems CEOs have with their top management teams, California Management Review, Vol. 37, pp. 110-127.Janis, I.L. (1972). Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.Janis, I.L. (1982). Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Policy decisions and Fiascos. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.Klein, G. (1998). Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Cambridge, MA., The MIT Press.Kowert, P. A. (2002). Groupthink or deadlock: When do leaders learn from their advisors? Albany, Blackwell Publishing.3 Modified from Janis (1982, P. 244)4 Janis (1982) suggested that a number of processes be included in group processes to eliminate the pitfalls of groupthink and develop more impartiality. These steps include; assigning each member of the group the role of a critical evaluator, higher people should abstain from expressing opinions when assigning tasks to the group, several independent groups should be set up to bring in more ideas and points of view, all alternatives should be examined, each member should discuss the issues with trusted people outside the group, invite outside experts to give their opinions, and a group member be assigned the role of ‘Devil’s advocate’.