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Why can group think be detrimental to effective group

Sometimes teams can follow a flawed process, by not exchanging enough information and exploring inadequate alternatives, and make erroneous conclusions. Groupthink is one such pitfall of decision-making. The aim of this article is to explore the role leadership plays in enhancing as well as mitigating groupthink in team decision-making processes.

Since most important and consequential decisions affecting organizations are made in groups Neck, 1996as learning and organizational change practitioner, it is important to be conversant of the conditions and symptoms of this bias, and at the same time know how to mitigate them. Groupthink Groupthink is a concept introduced by Irving Janis 1972 to describe extreme consensus seeking tendencies in decision-making groups. In essence, it is a major barrier to attentive information appraisal and processing and inhibits inclusive rationalization.

The importance of this phenomenon and the justification of interest in this matter is that many important political, policy and business decisions are currently made in groups, under high-pressure and time constraints, that could result in disastrous consequences if groupthink creeps in. Examples of groupthink can be found in historic events such as the U.

Groupthink: The Role of Leadership in Enhancing and Mitigating the Pitfall in Team Decision-Making

Thompson, 2008 In each of these examples, leadership style played a key role in enhancing groupthink conditions. Ironically, the role of leadership is also pivotal in ensuring that teams escape the potential pitfall of groupthink by adopting certain practices that mitigate groupthink. Some of these practices have been discussed below.

Antecedent Conditions for Groupthink The presence of the following antecedent conditions can lead to groupthink: Symptoms of Groupthink Groupthink can be diagnosed or observed when most or all of the following symptoms are present: Leadership and Groupthink The Leader's Role A leader is one who has the ability to influence members of a team to work effectively towards their goals.

Leana 1985 has found that leader behavior strongly influences the number of alternative solutions proposed and discussed by groups and the actual final decisions made by them. Cognitively complex and open leaders are more receptive to new information and are thus more flexible about their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts Ziv, 2008.

Avoiding Groupthink and the Other Bad Behaviors

Leader-Member Relationship Leaders do not treat all the members of the team equally and maintain distinct relationships with different members Thompson, 2008. This can lead to ingroups and outgroups being formed within a team, impacting group cohesiveness. A double-edged sword, group cohesiveness can be affected by leader-member relationships and leaders should be mindful of this fact. Power Motivation Studies have found that group leaders who are high in power motivation foster an atmosphere that is detrimental to group decision-making.

In an experiment conducted on college students, Fodor and Smith 1982 discovered that people with low scores on power motivation shared more information with the group and also considered more options before narrowing down on a decision.


Since closed leaders establish their personal views early in the decision-making process, they reduce the discussion of more alternatives, which can also lead to the fallacies of Common information effect and Hidden Profile.

Directive and promotional leaders are closed leaders who promote a particular alternative and ignore others, giving rise to groupthink symptoms and more observable defects in the group decision-making process Chen et al.

When such leaders express a preferred solution early in the discussion, groups are far more likely to adopt that solution as the final group choice Leana, 1985. Open Leadership It has been found that an effective leader is one who has an open outlook and can don different hats, such as those of a consultant, adviser, and facilitator to meet the requirements of the situation.

Open Leadership Styles Bay of Pigs vs. This is an example of when the same group succumbed to groupthink in one account Bay of Pigs and not in the other Cuban Missile Crisis.

How Can Groupthink Affect an Organization?

A leader has to maintain a healthy atmosphere of divergent thinking that steers the team away from premature convergence Small, 2010. In addition to creating an environment of trust and openness, in which team members are encouraged to speak up and critique ideas and opinions without fear of being reprimanded, a leader could make use of the following best practices in order to mitigate groupthink. Use of Devil's Advocate role: The Devil's Advocate role is that of a person who takes a position for the sake of fostering argument and conflict and is one of the oldest tools that can be used to mitigate the groupthink bias.

Conflict in teams is not always a bad thing, especially task and process conflict For more information refer to Types of conflict.

Use the Six Thinking Hats approach: In the early stages of problem solving, it is imperative to explore the solution space, without narrowing down too quickly. Better training of leaders in the use of experts could be vital to the decision making process Smith, 2004. The presence of an expert can reduce the insulation of the group from the outside world. Team size is positively correlated with groupthink Thompson, 2008.

  1. Leader-Member Relationship Leaders do not treat all the members of the team equally and maintain distinct relationships with different members Thompson, 2008. This keeps the team from going down the one way street of groupthink.
  2. This study proves that leader behavior and the presence of experts are important factors in moderating and mitigating other existing antecedents and symptoms of Groupthink in team decision-making.
  3. He defines it as the tendency of the group to settle on a more extreme solution to a problem than members would accept individually. Scientists, shamans and sages.
  4. Groupthink and communication processes.

Though there is no magic number that may work, by keeping a team lean the leader may encourage its members to speak versus conforming to popular views. Diversity in groups often facilitates group performance and also reduces group cohesiveness, which in turn increases diverse perspectives Greitmeyer et al.

But while diverse groups are good at generating more ideas, overall task performance is higher in homogeneous groups Thompson 2008. The leader first creates sub-groups to explore opposing alternatives and then the whole group comes together to debate the options Roberto, 2001.

Refrain from stating opinion: This engenders an atmosphere of open inquiry and impartiality. Structure discussion methods and alleviate time pressure: By sharing guidelines on methodical decision-making processes and reducing time pressure, leaders can mitigate groupthink antecedent conditions of lack of methodical principals and stress Thompson, 2008.

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Case Study Letterman or Leno: A Groupthink Analysis of Successive Decisions Made by NBC By analyzing two consecutive decisions made by the same group of executives at National Broadcasting Company NBC Neck 1996 explored the role leadership played in enhancing groupthink in the first case and mitigating it in the second.

Who would take over from Carson: Jay Leno or David Letterman? The decision-making group, led by Bob Wright President of NBCwas cohesive, insulated from outside opinion, homogeneous and under stress to make the right decision. The second decision was regarding what to do with Letterman since they chose Leno for the Tonight Show. In this case all the antecedents of groupthink were present except two: Bob Wright maintained a neutral position and encouraged all the members to speak up and the presence of experts checked the insulation problem.

This led to a thorough evaluation of a wide range of criteria and careful weighing of associated costs and risks. Analysis of the second decision yields information that proved that groupthink decision-making defects did why can group think be detrimental to effective group occur, despite the presence of some antecedents Neck, 1996. This study proves that leader behavior and the presence of experts are important factors in moderating and mitigating other existing antecedents and symptoms of Groupthink in team decision-making.

Conclusion While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mitigating groupthink, keeping in mind that there are no fixed attributes of a group or personalities that may be causing the phenomenon, leadership can avoid the snares of groupthink by: Testing the groupthink model: Effects of promotional leadership and conformity predisposition.

Social Behavior and Personality, 29 131-41.

Related Reads

Deciding with the leader and the devil. Psychological Record, 46 4581. Groupthink and communication processes: Dissertation Abstracts International, 37.

A laboratory investigation of groupthink. Communication Monographs, 45 3229-246. A laboratory test of some implications of Janis's groupthink hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 12888-896. The power motive as an influence on group decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 1178-185.

The effects of authentic and contrived dissent on escalation of commitment in group decision making. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39 4639-647.

Understanding the dynamics of power and influence in organizations 2nd ed. University of Notre Dame Press. Journal of Management, 11 15. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 11 83. The importance of leadership, time pressure, and methodical decision-making procedures.

Human Relations, 48 5537. Devil's advocate versus authentic dissent: Stimulating quantity and quality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31 6707-720. Influence and persuasion in small groups. Benefiting from deep-level diversity: How congruence between knowledge and decision rules improves team decision making and team perceptions.

  1. The presence of an expert can reduce the insulation of the group from the outside world.
  2. Benefiting from deep-level diversity.
  3. Janis' Victims of Groupthink.
  4. Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Three general problems seem to be at work.
  5. Symptoms of Groupthink Groupthink can be diagnosed or observed when most or all of the following symptoms are present. Case Study Letterman or Leno.

Decision-making exercises ABand C: Examining the role of conflict in-group decision-making. Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 28, 204-205.

The effects of leadership, group insulation, and information availability. Janis' Victims of Groupthink. Political Psychology, 12 2247-278. A guide for Managers 3rd ed.

  • If the leader can be clear, and temperate, there is a great likelihood that norms of disagreement will develop;
  • Case Study Letterman or Leno:

Prentice Hall Varvoglis, M. Scientists, shamans and sages: Gazing through Six Hats. Journal of Parapsychology, 67 13-16.