Productivity and GTD

The Dangerous Groupthink

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“No group is worth joining if everybody is welcome.” ~ Jim Grimsley

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Groupthink

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.

6 comments

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented about 3 years ago Günther

I'd like to add something:

Experiments revealed that our conscious perception fools us when we are exposed to group pressure. In these tests groups of ten people were tested, nine of them being paid and instructed actors who were asked prior to the tenth person, who was the real subject of study.

The actors expressed the same statement on a given and very easy perceptional task. To a very large extent the tenth person was joining these statements, even if they were obviously wrong.

First the scientists attributed this to group pressue and a conscious adaptation - surprisingly, and also shockingly, in many cases the adaptation took place in the subconscious, manipulating the conscious perception in a way so that the test persons actually perceived the wrong answers as true, only because the 9 persons prior to them gave the wrong answer.

I reproduced this from my memory and unfortunately can't remember where I read it.

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günther

I'd like to add something:

Experiments revealed that our conscious perception fools us when we are exposed to group pressure. In these tests groups of ten people were tested, nine of them being paid and instructed actors who were asked prior to the tenth person, who was the real subject of study.

The actors expressed the same statement on a given and very easy perceptional task. To a very large extent the tenth person was joining these statements, even if they were obviously wrong.

First the scientists attributed this to group pressue and a conscious adaptation - surprisingly, and also shockingly, in many cases the adaptation took place in the subconscious, manipulating the conscious perception in a way so that the test persons actually perceived the wrong answers as true, only because the 9 persons prior to them gave the wrong answer.

I reproduced this from my memory and unfortunately can't remember where I read it.

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd
Commented about 3 years ago Günther

And I'd like to add a tip:

A method called "Six Thinking Hats", developed by Edward de Bono in 1986. This method overcomes many problems occurring in group discussions by bringing a smart and changing role structure into the game. The six roles are (source: Wikipedia):

Managing (Blue) – what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal? Can look at the big picture.
Information (White) – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
Emotions (Red) – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
Discernment (Black) – logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.
Optimistic response (Yellow) – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.
Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, out of the box.

You can find detailed information and guidance for implementation in Edward de Bonos respective publications.

00d0a361be3efa69c937adcb1446d9cd Günther

And I'd like to add a tip:

A method called "Six Thinking Hats", developed by Edward de Bono in 1986. This method overcomes many problems occurring in group discussions by bringing a smart and changing role structure into the game. The six roles are (source: Wikipedia):

Managing (Blue) – what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal? Can look at the big picture.
Information (White) – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
Emotions (Red) – intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
Discernment (Black) – logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative. Practical, realistic.
Optimistic response (Yellow) – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Sees the brighter, sunny side of situations.
Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinks creatively, out of the box.

You can find detailed information and guidance for implementation in Edward de Bonos respective publications.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented about 3 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Günther,

Thanks for providing that study. Quite revealing!

The "Six Thinking Hats" seems to be a good method. It ensures variety of approaches. I think it's difficult to gather in the same group all these kinds of people, though ;)

Thank you!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Günther,

Thanks for providing that study. Quite revealing!

The "Six Thinking Hats" seems to be a good method. It ensures variety of approaches. I think it's difficult to gather in the same group all these kinds of people, though ;)

Thank you!

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a
Commented about 3 years ago Isaac Mann

I'm sure I studied this in college but it sounds like human dynamics which can be very frustrating to say the least, when trying to achieve a specific goal. It's unfortunate that people can be so power hungry, concerned about themselves, or what others think of them, so that it ends up negatively effecting the ability to reach that goal in the best way.

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a Isaac Mann

I'm sure I studied this in college but it sounds like human dynamics which can be very frustrating to say the least, when trying to achieve a specific goal. It's unfortunate that people can be so power hungry, concerned about themselves, or what others think of them, so that it ends up negatively effecting the ability to reach that goal in the best way.

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a
Commented about 3 years ago Isaac Mann

After reading it more carefully and looking at the Wikipedia description, this is human dynamics. One of the more famous examples of this in US history is the Bay of Pigs under the Kennedy. He was wise enough to see it and put an end to it quickly after it happened.

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a Isaac Mann

After reading it more carefully and looking at the Wikipedia description, this is human dynamics. One of the more famous examples of this in US history is the Bay of Pigs under the Kennedy. He was wise enough to see it and put an end to it quickly after it happened.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented about 3 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Isaac,

Absolutely. Unfortunately this social behavior is too embedded in human nature.

Thanks for sharing your opinion!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Isaac,

Absolutely. Unfortunately this social behavior is too embedded in human nature.

Thanks for sharing your opinion!

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