Have you ever been part of a group decision making process and felt that the decision was the wrong one? You may have assumed that you were the only one in disagreement with the decision. Maybe you tried to say something but were silenced by one or more individuals. Perhaps you sat there and said nothing – knowing that your input would not be welcomed.
Maybe the impact of the decision was not significant enough to press the issue. Perhaps you struggled to stay silent; knowing the decision was wrong or would adversely impact others. This situation is not uncommon and highlights a well known, but serious, problem with group decision making. Groupthink.
What is Groupthink?
Groupthink can happen in cohesive workgroups and can lead to serious flaws in decision making. The group become so focused on getting agreement and consensus on a decision, they fail to assess options realistically or take data into account.
Groupthink has been linked to famous political decisions such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In business, Groupthink has been blamed for flawed strategic decisions in companies like Marks & Spencer and British Airways (Eaton, 2001).
In part 1 of this series I will outline how to recognise Groupthink. Part 2 will discuss some tactics for preventing it.
So how do you spot Groupthink?
Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- The group have a feeling that they are Invulnerable. They are overly confident and convinced that success is the only option, the end result will be amazing and they cannot fail.
- Anybody who says the opposite is countered – even if they have a logical point or data that is of merit.
- People who oppose the decision are stereotyped by the group as weak, incompetent or a problem. Data they present is immediately discounted.
- Individuals who are in opposition may be given a chance to voice their opinion – but are interrupted, ignored or get shot down.
- Members of the group censor what they say – even their own thoughts. They don’t want to show any doubt or fall out of step with the group.
- Members of the group think everybody else is in agreement. They can overestimate the actual level of agreement.
- Individuals act as Mindguards. They filter the information coming into the group (e.g. if they invite only specific people from a function / team to attend a meeting, act as the single point of contact for information from other groups but filter what gets through to the working group)
So now you know the signs to look for. In Part 2 of this series we share information on how to prevent this.
What do you think? Have you witnessed Groupthink in action?