Groupthink: Decision Making and Group
Groupthink: Decision Making and Group

Groupthink: Decision Making and Group

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  • Pages: 7 (3501 words)
  • Published: October 9, 2017
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The term groupthink originated in 1952 in Fortune magazine by the author William Whyte. The theory, however, was not researched or clearly defined until around 1972 by Irving Janis.

Whyte acknowledged that groupthink was a definition in progress; Janis picked up and further developed the study many years later. Groupthink is defined as a group’s inability to make correct decisions as a result of the implied need for group cohesion. Janis provides a series of statements that collectively are a definition of groupthink: ‘Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures’” (Hutter 5). Group members force themselves to come to an agreement about decisions even when some members may have differing opinions on the subject at hand. Basically, doubts are set aside out of fear of offsetting the groups balance. Janis lays out eight prominent symptoms of groupthink in his two works Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (1972) and Groupthink (1982).

The first symptom occurs when the group develops a false sense of imperviousness which then leads to more risky decision making. The second symptom happens when the group chooses to ignore warnings and objections as a result of supposed invulnerability. Third, the group tends to cease questioning the morality of decisions being made due to the sense of security which results from being part of a group. In the fourth symptom, members of the group formulate stereotyped views of their opposition’s leader. Next, there is pressure on dissenters to follow the majority decision.

>The pressure leads to self-censorship of the dissenters. Those who do not want to express their doubts lead the group to have a false sense of unanimity which is the seventh symptom. The last of the symptoms is the result of what is referred to as “self-appointed mindguards. ” This means that members of the group refrain from sharing pertinent information to avoid damaging the group’s cohesiveness and solidarity. Not all of the symptoms occur simultaneously, but many can be present at once in groupthink.

In the past, researchers have often evaluated political decisions in regards to groupthink.The major historical events frequently referred to are the Bay of Pigs invasion, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, and Watergate. Many of these events share common characteristics that are classified as causes of groupthink. For example, the groups in charge of the decisions had strong leaders whose ideas went unopposed by subordinates from within the group. Also, many of the events consisted of highly heterogeneous groups, which make for less diversity in regards to fresh ideas.The underlying problem with these events is the desire for group consensus above morality and the avoidance of diversity.

Based on his eight symptoms of groupthink and various historical events which have fallen victim, Janis devised several ways to prevent groupthink. When in the initial phase of group formation and task assignment, leaders should not express any opinions about the mission at hand. Next, “leaders should assign each member the role of ‘critical evaluator’” (Wikipedia). This enables group members to feel free

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to voice objections and opinions.The group should be broken up into smaller subgroups to get more diverse alternatives to the problem being discussed. Outside sources from within the organization should be approached to get an unbiased opinion regarding the proposed alternatives.

Also, outside experts should be solicited for advice and expertise. Finally, at least one member from within the group should be assigned the role of devil’s advocate. This role should be rotated regularly to obtain the most educated and unbiased final decision. Prior to the theory of groupthink, group dynamics were studied.

Group cohesiveness was looked at in a positive light before the emergence of the groupthink theory. “The predominant generalization regarding group work is that group members who are strongly attracted to the group work harder to achieve the goals of the group” (Moorhead 435). With the surfacing of the groupthink theory, cohesiveness has been thought of as a factor which clouds judgment in decision making rather than enhance it. Hence, groupthink put cohesiveness into an entirely different perspective. Research ensued over the groupthink theory because many scholars believed it to be too harsh on group dynamics.The theory has been difficult to test due to the lack of constant variables.

Another problem with testing the groupthink theory is determining what size the group should be. Janis never specified what size the group should be in terms of successful decision making, which has plagued researchers who have followed his studies. There is plenty of room for further research on the theory. Janis does not feel that cohesiveness is the predominant factor in the failure of groups in all situations. His hypothesis states, “The more amiability and espirit de orps among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups” (Hutter 6). Janis is careful not to say that cohesiveness always leads to failure or that it will lead to poor decisions.

He simply supposes that cohesiveness makes the chance for failure greater. Groupthink continues to be quite popular in management studies as it can be easily applied to group dynamics.Clarence Von Bergen and Raymond Kirk, authors of “Groupthink: When too many heads spoil the decision,” write about the benefits and downfalls of working in groups. They proceed to give real life examples of how groupthink occurs in business and how it can be prevented. Von Bergen and Kirk believe groups can be beneficial because higher quality decisions result when more people are involved in the decision-making process.

Also, it is easier for a group than it would be for an individual to make a decision which leads to unfavorable actions.Conversely, groups tend to seek unanimous decisions without regard for what is best for the business. Group cohesiveness leads to individual censorship. Von Bergen and Kirk list Janis’ eight symptoms of groupthink in order to show how business practices are affected by poor decision-making. A case study of nine employees was evaluated to show how groupthink can influence decisions which would not have been made in other

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