Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.
|Definition||Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcomes. Groupthink may lead to the adoption of a consensus view, often leading to suboptimal or flawed decisions.|
|Symptoms||– Illusion of invulnerability: Group members believe their decisions are infallible. – Collective rationalization: Ignoring warning signs or counterarguments. – Belief in inherent morality: Assuming the group’s decisions are morally correct. – Stereotyping outsiders: Viewing those outside the group as enemies. – Self-censorship: Withholding dissenting opinions. – Illusion of unanimity: Incorrectly assuming everyone agrees. – Direct pressure on dissenters: Pressuring those who voice concerns. – Mindguards: Protecting the group from dissenting information.|
|Metrics||Metrics related to Groupthink may include “decision quality,” “level of dissent,” and “degree of group cohesion” to assess the impact on decision-making processes.|
|Benefits||Group cohesion and harmony, quick decision-making in some cases, and a sense of belonging within the group.|
|Drawbacks||– Poor decision quality. – Lack of critical thinking. – Suppression of dissenting opinions. – Ignoring potential risks or alternatives. – Decreased creativity and innovation.|
|Applications||Understanding Groupthink is crucial in various group decision-making contexts, such as corporate boardrooms, government organizations, and team projects. It helps in identifying and mitigating the negative consequences of group dynamics that can lead to flawed decisions.|
|Examples||– A corporate board of directors unanimously approving a risky investment without thorough analysis due to fear of dissent. – A political group disregarding valid criticisms of their policies in order to maintain unity. – A project team failing to consider alternative solutions because the majority of members conform to one idea.|
The phenomenon, where groups arrive at a consensus that is either problematic or premature, may be driven by a particular agenda or by those who value collaboration and conflict avoidance over critical thinking.
Groupthink was popularized by psychologist Irving Janis in a 1971 issue of Psychology Today who also performed much of the initial research on the phenomenon.
However, it is believed the term itself was coined in 1952 by urbanist and sociologist William H. Whyte Jr. who was inspired by similar concepts in George Orwell’s 1949 book Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Janis identified eight symptoms or traits of groupthink that caused flawed conclusions:
- Unquestioned beliefs – the group ignores the potential moral consequences of its decisions or actions.
- Rationalization – this prevents individuals from reconsidering their viewpoints which causes them to ignore any warning signs.
- Stereotyping – where members of the so-called “in-group” ostracize or stereotype those in the “out-group” who may oppose or challenge certain ideas.
- Illusions of unanimity – a belief held by superiors that every member of the group is in agreement. When it appears that everyone feels the same way, it is much harder for one individual to voice their concern.
- Self-censorship – similarly, those who have doubts may avoid sharing them because they assume that the group knows best.
- “Mindguards” – these are self-appointed individuals who ensure that contrarian viewpoints are not discussed by other group members. They may dismiss important information that contradicts popular opinion to maintain group self-esteem.
- Illusions of invulnerability – where overly-optimistic group members behave in a way that is risky and unjustified.
- Direct pressure – those who do have the courage to offer a contrarian view are pressured to conform and may be considered traitorous or disloyal if they do not.
The impact of groupthink
The desire for team harmony and conflict avoidance is a cognitive bias that stifles creativity and individuality within a group.
In the pursuit of consensus, optimal solutions are overlooked and potential problems are underestimated.
Groupthink is toxic to organizations because it creates an undesirable corporate culture where employees with “popular” viewpoints are pitted against those who hold less popular opinions.
Groupthink also causes organizations to lose the benefits of diverse experiences and perspectives.
These are both key drivers of robust decision-making and problem-solving that considers all possible alternatives.
In contexts such as politics or the military, the consequences of groupthink are far greater. The phenomenon may lead to decisions that ignore ethical or moral dilemmas and instead focus on objectives with potential for significant collateral damage.
- Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.
- Eight symptoms or traits of groupthink cause flawed conclusions: unquestioned beliefs, rationalization, stereotyping, illusions of unanimity, self-censorship, “mindguards”, illusions of invulnerability, and direct pressure.
- In the workplace, groupthink stifles individual creativity, creates a toxic corporate culture, and stifles the organization’s ability to make robust decisions or solve problems.
Key highlights about groupthink:
- Definition and Origin: Groupthink is a phenomenon where well-intentioned individuals within a group make suboptimal decisions due to the belief that dissent is impossible or the desire to conform. This can lead to consensus without critical evaluation of alternatives.
- Characteristics and Origin: Popularized by psychologist Irving Janis in 1971, groupthink involves groups arriving at problematic or premature consensus. It can arise from an agenda or a preference for collaboration over critical thinking. The term was coined in 1952 by William H. Whyte Jr., inspired by George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
- Groupthink Characteristics:
- Unquestioned Beliefs: Group ignores moral consequences.
- Rationalization: Prevents reconsideration of viewpoints.
- Stereotyping: In-group ostracizes or stereotypes the out-group.
- Illusions of Unanimity: Belief that everyone agrees, suppressing dissent.
- Self-Censorship: Doubters avoid sharing their concerns.
- “Mindguards”: Individuals suppress dissenting viewpoints.
- Illusions of Invulnerability: Overly optimistic, risky behavior.
- Direct Pressure: Pressure to conform, discouraging dissent.
- Impact of Groupthink:
- Stifled Creativity: Desire for harmony limits creativity and individuality.
- Optimal Solutions Overlooked: Pursuit of consensus ignores optimal solutions and underestimates problems.
- Toxic Corporate Culture: Fosters a culture where popular viewpoints clash with less popular opinions.
- Loss of Diversity: Hampers diverse experiences and perspectives, crucial for robust decision-making and problem-solving.
- Broader Consequences: In contexts like politics or the military, groupthink’s impact is more severe. It can lead to decisions disregarding ethical concerns and focusing solely on objectives, potentially causing significant collateral damage.
- Key Takeaways:
- Groupthink arises when consensus is reached without critical evaluation.
- Symptoms include unquestioned beliefs, rationalization, stereotyping, illusions of unanimity, self-censorship, “mindguards,” illusions of invulnerability, and direct pressure.
- In workplaces, groupthink suppresses creativity, creates a negative culture, and hampers effective decision-making and problem-solving.
- In critical contexts, groupthink can lead to decisions with severe consequences, ignoring ethical considerations.
Connected Thinking Frameworks