The Dangerous GroupthinkAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“No group is worth joining if everybody is welcome.” ~ Jim Grimsley
Have you ever seen on Twitter or Facebook a comment that you would like to discuss, but you have not done so because there are a lot of people supporting it with retweets and likes?
The term groupthink was coined by the psychologist Irving Janis in 1972, and it’s a phenomenon that takes place when a group of people make faulty decisions because the strong collective wish of working in harmony is more important than obtaining good results, in an effective way.
This kind of situation takes place more often than what you may think, especially in the corporate world. When a team member realizes that his opinion goes against the one he thinks is the agreed opinion, he simply remains silent. Members choose not to be contrary to the group, even when they think they are making wrong decisions.
If it turns out that all members have a similar attitude, no one does anything in order to fix things and the group continue heading the wrong direction until they inevitably reach a crisis situation. At that point it’s probable that the project may no longer be straightened or that the cost of doing so is unacceptable.
Groupthink happens when the group is close united and has a big pressure to do things right, with a high quality level. Those teams in which all members have a similar background and in which the rules determining who and how decisions should be made are not well defined, are especially sensitive to this phenomenon.
When the group exerts too much pressure on the individual, a set of intelligent people can make stupid decisions. In order to avoid this, Janis suggests the following methods:
- The leader must assign each member a “critical evaluator” role, so that free objections can be made. It’s good to encourage everyone to question any opinion and express theirs without fear.
- The leader must not express his opinions, preferences or expectations when handing in the task to the team. Influencing any outcome must be avoided.
- Group members should be capable of arguing ideas with expert and trusted people outside the team, and to report back these discussions. It’s good to occasionally invite some external agent to the meetings.
- In any decision making, one team member should be chosen as the “Devil’s advocate”, in order to question everyone else and defend the opposite argument, even if he doesn’t believe in it.
- All possible alternatives must be taken into consideration.