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What is groupthink? How does it affect the decisions made by a group? Identify the critical...

What is groupthink? How does it affect the decisions made by a group? Identify the critical factors that are believed to lead to groupthink. Explain how you could reduce groupthink in terms of these factors.

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Answer #1

What Is Groupthink?

Groupthink is a tendency for decision-making groups to suppress opposing viewpoints in order to preserve group harmony.
Although groupthink involves restricting opinions, it is not actively and intentionally pursued. Instead, groupthink is a psychological tendency to unintentionally reduce opposition in hopes of reducing tension, increasing cohesion, and quickly reaching a decision.
Groupthink can also be viewed as a form of peer pressure exerted by majority leaders on those team members that are less willing to conform.

Ways Groupthink Leads to Team Failure

When considering what groupthink is and why it occurs, it is easy to identify how groupthink can lead to team failure. The two most obvious ways include conformity and submission.

When a team member conforms to the majority, he or she is sacrificing his or her own involvement in the team’s decision-making process. This leads to team failure in two significant ways. First, the team becomes very one-sided and close-minded, which limits the ability to forecast potential problems and thoroughly evaluate necessary solutions. Second, conformity reduces the individuality and diversity necessary for effective teamwork.

When a team member suppresses his or her own opinions to preserve group harmony, the team member is being peer pressured into submission. Submission negatively influences team success by creating an atmosphere of dominance rather than mutual accountability and teamwork, which is necessary for teams to be successful and thrive. Second, submission leads to individual feelings of worthlessness and apathy toward team goals, which can be detrimental to team spirit, cooperative engagements, and overall workplace and employee satisfaction.

Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. ... These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity.

1. High group cohesiveness

Janis emphasized that cohesiveness is the main factor that leads to groupthink. Groups that lack cohesiveness can of course make bad decisions, but they do not experience groupthink. In a cohesive group, members avoid speaking out against decisions, avoid arguing with others, and work towards maintaining friendly relationships in the group. If cohesiveness gets to such a high level where there are no longer disagreements between members, then the group is ripe for groupthink.

  • deindividuation: group cohesiveness becomes more important than individual freedom of expression

2. Structural faults

Cohesion is necessary for groupthink, but it becomes even more likely when the group is organized in ways that disrupt the communication of information, and when the group engages in carelessness while making decisions.

  • insulation of the group: can promote the development of unique, inaccurate perspectives on issues the group is dealing with, and can then lead to faulty solutions to the problem.
  • lack of impartial leadership: leaders can completely control the group discussion, by planning what will be discussed, only allowing certain questions to be asked, and asking for opinions of only certain people in the group. Closed style leadership is when leaders announce their opinions on the issue before the group discusses the issue together. Open style leadership is when leaders withheld their opinion until a later time in the discussion. Groups with a closed style leader have been found to be more biased in their judgments, especially when members had a high degree for certainty. Thus, it is best for leaders to take an open style leadership approach, so that the group can discuss the issue without any pressures from the leader.
  • lack of norms requiring methodological procedures
  • homogeneity of members' social backgrounds and ideology

3. Situational context:

  • highly stressful external threats: High stake decisions can create tension and anxiety, and group members then may cope with the decisional stress in irrational ways. Group members may rationalize their decision by exaggerating the positive consequences and minimizing the possible negative consequences. In attempt to minimize the stressful situation, the group will make a quick decision with little to no discussion or disagreement about the decision. Studies have shown that groups under high stress are more likely to make errors, lose focus of the ultimate goal, and use procedures that members know have not been effective in the past.
  • recent failures: can lead to low self-esteem, resulting in agreement with the group in fear of being seen as wrong.
  • excessive difficulties on the decision-making task
  • time pressures: group members are more concerned with efficiency and quick results, instead of quality and accuracy. Additionally, time pressures can lead to group members overlooking important information regarding the issue of discussion.
  • moral dilemmas

Although it is possible for a situation to contain all three of these factors, all three are not always present even when groupthink is occurring. Janis considered a high degree of cohesiveness to be the most important antecedent to producing groupthink and always present when groupthink was occurring; however, he believed high cohesiveness would not always produce groupthink. A very cohesive group abides to all group norms; whether or not groupthink arises is dependent on what the group norms are. If the group encourages individual dissent and alternative strategies to problem solving, it is likely that groupthink will be avoided even in a highly cohesive group. This means that high cohesion will lead to groupthink only if one or both of the other antecedents is present, situational context being slightly more likely than structural faults to produce groupthink.

According to Janis, decision-making groups are not necessarily destined to groupthink. He devised ways of preventing groupthink:

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