Team Thinking Styles

Introduction to team work

As suggested by the SHELL model (seeSHELL model), human error is more often a failure of the interaction between the human operator and its surrounding factors, one being the “liveware”- i.e. another human. In any aviation operation people work as a crew, hence the understanding of what common characteristics form when individuals come together and make a group is important in enhancing better team work and reducing the possibility of human error.

Five group thinking styles

Earl (2006 [3]) summarised five common characteristics of individual’s behaviour when making decisions as a group, which would be very helpful for leaders to understand how group responses are formed.

1. Conformity
This describes the behaviour where one has the desire to go along with the norms of a group so that one can be accepted as an in-group person. Being a ritualist (or blind conformist)- is a problem of conformity, where one has the desire to go along with the norms of a group so you will be accepted as an in-group person. The impact of having a majority of ritualists in a group is that the group lacks different opinions and views, and individuals don’t speak up even when they think the decision made carry potential risks as they don’t wish to feel excluded and have the pressure to conform. ( David, 2010 [1])

2. Group Polarisation
This is a result of group discussion, where the average postgroup response will tend to be more extreme in the same direction as the average of the pregroup response. In the case where the team discussion was leading to a positive attempt, the results taken would be at the low risk extreme; however group polarisation can be dangerous if the average response was moving to a negative attempt, as the end response will be magnified and may cause greater errors or negative impacts as per its group power.

3. Groupthink
Groupthink refers to the illusion of agreement. It is a type of thought that occurs when a group consists of a majority of ritualists and tends to maximize cohesiveness and minimize conflict by agreeing with each other; and reach a consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. It is a distorted style of thinking that renders group members incapable of making a rational decision.

There are three main symptoms of Groupthink:

  • Overestimation of the group leading members to think they are performing very well
  • Rigidly shut off alternatives or conflicts causing closed-mindedness
  • Pressure toward uniformity, which makes agreeing easy and disagreeing too difficult.

(Forsyth, 2006 4)

4. Social Loafing
This refers to the reduced amount of work effort contributed by each individual working in a team compared to when they were working alone. Social loafing occurs as individuals feel that their effort is not recognised and cannot be measured as the result from the task is a collective one.

5. Bystander effect (or Bystander apathy)
This stands for a psychological phenomenon where persons are less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present than when they are alone.

Researches show that bystanders go through a five-step process, during each of which they can decide to do nothing.

"Notice the event (or in a hurry and not notice).
Realize the emergency (or assume that as others are not acting, it is not an emergency).
Assume responsibility (or assume that others will do this).
Know what to do (or not)
Act (or worry about danger, legislation, embarrassment, etc.)" (David, 2010a [2])

Five rules in managing group thinking

1. A good leader
A good leader is not a dictator, nor is it someone who flows with the trend. A strong and independent personality is important as well as being open to suggestions and criticism from others.

2. Get everyone involved
This can be done by distributing tasks and roles to team members, also acknowledging the importance of individual contribution to the task. Personal recognition of outstanding efforts is a way to encourage input and reduce social loafing, but at the same time keep the group with a desirable level of conformity.

3. Encourage everyone to report any hazardous situations
This also includes encouraging suggestions for alternatives and solutions. Reward systems for accurate and advanced reporting can be set up to encourage members bring in their own ideas and avoid Groupthink. If the awareness of hazards are raised within the group this may also avoid the Bystander effect.

4. Keep everyone informed
By keeping everyone informed of any changes regarding the task or organisation will give members a sense of belonging so they feel more committed to the group and to ensure everyone is aware of any emergencies in a timely manner.

5. Mindguard
A mindguard is a group member who shields the group from negative or controversial information by gatekeeping and suppressing dissent. (Forsyth, 2006 4) The mindguard does not have to be, but often is the leader of the team. Some leaders may appoint a group member to be the mindguard of the team so other members do not feel pressured.

Where does this apply to in aviation?

The use of group thinking styles can be applied in managing almost any work area, as long as there is interaction between people, when there is more than one person in a team. Below are a few examples in the aviation working area. Each decision that the group makes can have great implications on the safety and security of the passengers and personnel in the air travel industry. There are other areas in the aviation sector where daily tasks are completed under a more independent manner and hence group thinking styles does not affect directly.

  • 1. Flight deck
  • 2. Cabin Crew
  • 3. Engineering and Maintenance
  • 4. Airline operational management and planning
  • 5. Civil Aviation Associations
1. DAVID S (2010). The need for Conformity. Retrieved from Changing on 2 August 2010
2. DAVID S (2010a). Bystander effect. Retrieved from Changing on 2 August 2010
3. EARL L (2006). Leadership and managing errors. Massey University (Palmerston North, New Zealand), 2006.
4. FORSYTH D R (2006). Group dynamics. (4th ed.) Thomson Wadsworth (USA), 2006.

Want to know more?

ELLIS D G & FISHER B A (1994). Small Group Decision Making: Communication and the Group Process. (4th ed.) McGraw-Hill, Inc. (USA), 1994.

FORSYTH D R (2006). Group Dynamics. Thomson Wadsworth (USA), 2006.

Decision Making in Aviation A great page that explains individual decision making.

Bystander Effect A detailed page explaining Bystander Effect in more depth with examples and video demonstrations.

Groupthink A page dedicated for the topic Groupthink, with some good information of how to prevent Groupthink, and aviation examples.

Social Loafing Contains a detailed definition and explanation of the social loafing phenomenon. An accident in aviation is also raised as an example.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Amber WanAmber Wan

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License