What Is Groupthink?

Groupthink

Groupthink is the phenomenon where a group engages in decision-making without applying critical thinking. The group reaches a consensus without considering the consequences of their decision or alternative approaches. Regardless of whether the viewpoint is valid, it is fully accepted because of the overarching desire to reach an agreement.

Groupthink characteristics

Here are the signs associated with the groupthink phenomenon:

Illusion of invulnerability

Lead group members might create the illusion that the group is performing well because no opposing thoughts come forward. They engage in unjustified risky behaviour, cultivating a culture of optimism around irrationality.  

Mind guards

Groupthink members often task themselves with the responsibility of “keeping the peace.” They believe they must protect the group and its leader from information that may threaten their cohesiveness.

Pressure to conform

The phenomenon raises the pressure to conform within the group. As a result, group members with objections feel they will be silenced and shunned. This leads to unquestioned beliefs and indifference to the consequences of the group’s actions.

Rationalising decisions

To maintain group cohesion, members resort to rationalisation of the warning signs and risks associated with their decisions.

Self-censorship

Members perform self-censorship to prevent themselves from being alienated from the group.

Impact on decision-making

Groupthink can have dangerous consequences for a company’s profitability and governance. It can impact decision-making in the following ways:

  • Suboptimal decisions: Groupthink leads to impractical decisions due to a lack of opposition, scrutiny and feedback. The members tend to overlook optimal solutions to problems, resulting in poor decision-making.
  • Lack of critical evaluation: Members prefer to ignore or silence any contrasting views, creating the illusion of unanimous consent. No one would jeopardise the group's harmony, causing them to overlook any adverse consequences of their decisions.
  • Less innovation: A culture of questioning the status quo garners diverse perspectives and healthy discussion. Without it, members do not speak openly, leading to a lack of unique input.

Mitigation strategies

Here are some ways to discourage groupthink in your organisation:

Encourage dissent

Encourage members to bring up opposing views and think “outside the box.” Break down large groups into smaller ones to facilitate open-ended discussions.

Diverse recruitment

Prioritise diversity while recruiting. Maintaining a workforce with a range of backgrounds, expertise, ages and cultures can enrich decision-making.

Training

Train managers on leading groups through an optimal decision-making process. Provide opportunities for employees to grow as independent thinkers. Share insightful content, books and other resources to allow everyone to develop unique and informed viewpoints.

Assign a “devil’s advocate”

Groupthink is a result of the natural pressure to fit in. As such, assigning a member to play devil’s advocate — intentionally raising objections — can break down the barriers for others sharing diverse opinions. 

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