Groupthink in Project Teams and Work Groups.
A threat to organisational effectiveness and competitive advantage.
What is Groupthink?
Team members are more concerned with unity, harmony and fellowship than with the quality of the group’s decisions.
- Often credited by influential members as the reason why the team prospers
- Over time groupthink becomes a powerful norm reflecting the importance of conformity in members’ minds
- If threatened, they redouble their conforming behaviour
- Groupthink undermines quality of decision making
- Groupthink accumulates and produces sub-par decisions
- Common in government fiascos (high-level policy-making) and board of directors
- Groupthink is often caused by strong leaders who are autocratic and charismatic
- Such leaders have firm preferences – one can see their fingerprints on the group’s decisions
- However, it is necessary in case of time urgency and to avert crisis -> political and military leaders with task and command groups
Indicators of Groupthink:
Illusion of invulnerability
- The team / work group concludes success comes easily even in face of unfavourable odds
- “We have overcome bigger problems than this”
- The team / work group believes they cannot fail, because they are oblivious to external indicators that could spell trouble
- “We do not need more market data; we know this product is a winner”
- Self-appointed guards who eliminate or filter disagreeable external information to protect from threatening outsiders
- “Do not let that guy from engineering in our meeting. We know the product will perform in the field”
Belief in inherent morality of group
- Group / Team members protect the self-esteem and reputation of the group by claiming their decision occupies moral and ethical ground
- “We’re the greatest!”
Negative stereotyping of opposition
- Smug self-satisfaction, the team / work group labels opposition as dull, stupid, confused or cowardly
- “Our rivals are losers”
Direct pressure to dissenters
- If a member disagrees, the mindguards encourage the dissenter to remember the importance of unity and harmony
- “You really need to ‘go with the flow’ and not ‘rock the boat'”
- If a group / team member doubts the wisdom of group’s decision, he / she keeps quiet to show he / she is on board
- “I think I need to conform. I have my doubts, but everyone seems so sure we’re doing the right thing”
- Each member takes the silence of the others as total commitment to the course of action
- “Not one member of the team has raised an objection! I had better support the decision”
Tips to keep teams on track (out of the groupthink swamp)
- The leader must assign the role of critical evaluator to members on a rotating basis. In addition, the leader must encourage members to question his position on a team decision
- Influential members should not pre-specify solutions / methods for reaching solutions. Separate idea generation from idea evaluation (aspect of brainstorming)
- The leader should direct subgroups to arrive at separate, independent decisions before polling the entire group on its decision
- At pre-specified intervals, outside experts should be invited to provide guidance
- When rivals’ actions are the focus of group decision making, sessions should be devoted to exploration of warning signals against forms of retaliation (revenge).
- A “second chance” meeting should be held after the group has selected an official position. The purpose is to express doubts that may have occurred to members.
Source: “Organisational Behaviour” by Professor Robert Daily – Heriot-Watt University