Groupthink

Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.


Preventing Groupthink

According to Irving Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily doomed to groupthink. He also claims that there are several ways to prevent it. Janis devised seven ways of preventing groupthink (209-15):

  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group’s ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.   


Remedies for Groupthink

Decision experts have determined that groupthink may be prevented by adopting some of the following measures:

  1. The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member
  2. The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset
  3. Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups’ deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate’s reactions
  4. One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis.  The outside experts should be encouraged to challenge views of the members.
  5. At least one articulate and knowledgeable member should be given the role of devil’s advocate (to question assumptions and plans)
  6. The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals from rivals; leader and group construct alternative scenarios of rivals’ intentions.

 

“Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes,” Irving L. Janis (Cengage Learning; 2 edition, May 19, 1982).

 

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