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groupthink
19 Nov 2021

The power of Groupthink and Organisational Impacts

The term ‘groupthink’ was coined by psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.  Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common-sense desire to present views to the contrary, critique or express an unpopular opinion. The desire for cohesion outweighs systematic decision making and problem-solving. Groupthink means people can ignore important information and lead to poor decisions.

This blog seeks to define groupthink, identify issues associated with it and how to overcome them.

Impacts of Groupthink 

Overlook Problems 

In a business setting, groupthink can cause employees and/or supervisors to overlook problems. It reduces the emphasis on individual critical thinking. This means employees may censor themselves or not suggest alternatives, as they fear upsetting the status quo. 

In-Group Bias 

A group can thus rationalise any negative outcomes from their thinking. The group can further suffer from in-group bias and ignore opinions outside of their group. 

Limited Decision Making 

Groupthink can lead to the whole group basing a decision on limited information. When combined with other behavioural bias, this can have catastrophic implications. Behavioural biases, such as anchoring, availability, or confirmation biases may be adopted by the whole group. Consequently, this limits the extent to which thinking is challenged.

The financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated groupthink within the democratic culture and banking decisions at the time. This classic case was where experts ignored clear warnings signs and pursued a disastrous course of action. Ultimately, this led to the downfall of top banks and institutions. 

Groupthink Has Powerful Implications 

Take groupthink, the prevalence of a point of view even if entirely wrong because the group have promoted it. Combine this with cognitive dissonance (ignoring conflicting information) and you have an entire group disregarding information contrary to their belief. This becomes powerful when adopting attitudes or embracing particular opinions, especially within a work context.

How to Avoid Groupthink 

Avoiding groupthink can lead to an enhanced organisational culture, where people feel free to express their views, challenges ways of thinking or working and in turn, create a more diverse working environment. Implications of not having a diverse working environment and safe space for employees to grow can impact their wellbeing. Check out our Wellbeing Hub for further advice on employee wellbeing! 

Write ideas down 

Firstly, people could write their opinions down and send general ideas to a manager, who could then sum up these ideas to the group. As such, individual ways of thinking are combined, discussed and adopted by the whole group. The manager collecting the views should refrain from expressing their opinion so as to not influence anyone else’s perspective. 

Encourage independent thinking 

According to experts, peer pressure, lack of diversity and stereotyping are leading factors that drive groupthink. To overcome this, encourage independent thinking. Companies can endorse independent thinking to overcome issues associated with groupthink. Furthermore, cultural differences will impact the way an individual thinks. In turn, this can help foster the diverse workforce necessary to entertain opposite viewpoints and play devil’s advocate. 

Encouraging healthy debate 

Breaking up the norms of agreeing with people and encouraging a healthy debate amongst groups in your organisation can also help avoid groupthink. Using rewards and recognition could enhance behaviour that respectfully challenges their peers. Furthermore, encouraging people to speak about negative consequences, so long as these are objectively and factually based, should be encouraged. This way team know that those behaviours are okay and welcomed within their organisation. 

Smaller groups 

Small groups can dispense information amongst themselves and facilitate open-ended discussions more easily than large groups may be able to. This is because group members do not feel pressure to tailor their views or opinions in front of a larger audience. Therefore, when important decisions involving multiple people are made, split people into groups to facilitate more effective communication. 

Diversity 

The key to avoiding groupthink behaviour lies with diversity. Diversity can come in many forms: gender, ethnicity, age and intellectual diversity to name a few. All are important components. For example, regarding intellectual diversity, you do not solely want a few people with mathematics backgrounds, or media backgrounds. You want a collection of a variety of backgrounds to bring more experience and world views to the decision making. Consequently, this will improve overall group judgement and the group’s ability to see the bigger picture. 

By writing ideas down, having smaller groups, encouraging independent thinking, healthy debate and fostering diversity, your organisation will be on track to overcoming issues associated with groupthink.

To find out more about how Each Person can help reduce groupthink in your workplace, visit eachperson.com or contact us at info@eachperson.com.

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