Friday, March 16, 2012

Groupthink and the desire for harmony in decision-making groups

Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale, started research on the phenomenon called groupthink - already in 1972. Since groupthink is still "alive and kicking" we devote it a blog post.
  • "Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. It is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. Antecedent factors such as group cohesiveness, structural faults, and situational context play into the likelihood of whether or not groupthink will impact the decision-making process.
  • The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking. As a social science model, groupthink has an enormous reach and influences literature in the fields of communications, political science, social psychology, management, organizational theory, and information technology."

According to Janis, there are ways of preventing groupthink:
    • "Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
    • Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
    • The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
    • All effective alternatives should be examined.
    • Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
    • The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
    • At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting."
    Nowadays the latershare communication tool can help to avoid groupthink and to deal with conformity and compliance pressures. It takes the hassle out of the communication situation. It should be safe for everyone, including introverts, to express themselves. Of course the opinions expressed in the replies of a latershare round should be handled with respect.

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