The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2005 8) defines groupthink as "a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics." This meaning has to be interpreted in the context of group dynamics. Therefore, groupthink refers to group dynamics occurring in those groups that look for members' consent and conformity at all cost, this leading to attitudinal change at individual levels, up to the point where members self-deceive themselves into group conformity.
Irving Janis (1982 5; Janis & Mann, 1977 7) developed a study on group decision-making, called Groupthink Theory. It is based on human social behavior, in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity which is regarded more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner. Janis defined the concept as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action” (Janis, 1982, p.9 5).
Highly cohesive groups are much more engaged in groupthink. The closer group members are, the less likely they are to raise questions that might break the cohesion.
Janis's model of groupthink
For many years Janis model of groupthink (1972) provided an explanation for poor or ineffective decisions made by groups. The model is based on five major factors which explain how groupthink occur (Henningsen, Henningsen & Eden, 2006 ). Firstly, antecedents of groupthink refers to high levels of cohensiveness. Janis refered group conhensiveness as the greatest single hazard that can contribute to cause groupthink. Secondly, concurrence seeking, according to Jainis, makes group members to openly agree with group decision even though they individually disagree with it. Thirdly, symptoms of groupthink lead the member of a group towards the favoured group decision. Common symptoms are briefly given below. Fourthly, decision-making defects, occur as a result of the symptoms of groupthink. According to Jains there are seven decision-making defects: insufficient analysis of alternatives and objectives, unable to identify the flaws of chosen decision, poor research, information processing bias, failure to reappraise alternatives, and failure to have a backup plan. Finally, poor decision outcomes refer to poor performance. Groupthink obstructs member reaching to appropriate decisions.
Although Janis considers that group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that “It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition” (Janis, 1972 4). According to his statements, cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following antecedent conditions is met (Walker, 1994, pp.5-8 12):
- Structural faults in the organisation: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.
- Provocative situational context: high stress form external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, and moral dilemmas.
Symptoms of Groupthink
Janis (1977 7) listed eight symptoms that show that concurrence seeking has led the group in the wrong direction.
- Illusion of invulnerability: members ignore obvious deficiencies, take extreme positions, and are overly confident in their positions.
- Illusion of morality: members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.
- Collective rationalisation: members discredit and explain away any positions contrary to group thinking.
- Excessive stereotyping: the group construct negative stereotypes if rivals outside the group.
- Self-censorship: members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.
- Illusion of unanimity: members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group’s decision; silence is seen as consent.
- Pressure for conformity: member pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments viewing such opposition as disloyalty.
- Self-appointed mindguards: some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.
The symptoms can be divided into three main types (Janis, 1982, pp. 174-175 5):
- Type I: Overestimations of the group – its power and morality : illusion of invulnerability and illusion of morality;
- Type II: Closed-mindedness : collective rationalization and excessive stereotyping;
- Type III: Pressures toward uniformity: self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, pressure for conformity and self-appointed mindguards.
Preventing Groupthink (12 MANAGE, 2008 1)
- Appoint a devil’s advocate;
- Encourage everyone to be critical evaluator;
- The leader should not state a preference initially;
- Set up independent groups;
- Divide into subgroups;
- Discuss what is happening with others outside the group;
- Invite other into group to bring fresh ideas; and
- Collect anonymous reactions. Via a suggestion box or an online forum.
Classic Air Safety Investigation on Groupthink
Groupthink is a type of influence in decision-making of teams. Decisions affected by groupthink are towards the same opinion and group-members stop themselves from listening/accepting other information except those which supports them. High-cohesiveness, structural and contextual factors in groups will enhance the likelihood of groupthink. Consequences like limited attention to information, biasness and lack of alternative plans will result in a bad-decision by the group affected with groupthink [Hart (1990 2)]Therefore it is essential to remove such influence as every decision made in aviation sector may result in massive consequences.
On 28th January 1986, space shuttle Challenger disintegrated after 73 seconds into its flight. Although the failure is on an O-ring seal which result in a structural failure, failures in decision support system and human factors management played a part in the cause of the accident [NASA Histroy Office 9].
NASA and Thiokol have the chance to delay the launch of the spacecraft months’ before-hand. But they insisted on its schedule. It was reported that the O-ring was detected faulty few months before, but no action to delay launch was done. Secondly, the decision to ‘delay’ was unwanted. All members of the Thiokol’s team supported to launch on the scheduled date. Thus all conform towards that decision as they belief it’s the right thing and not accepting other scientist opinion. Thirdly, all members of the team felt that they should live up their ‘norm’ on the team. Fourthly, the Thiokol’s team took a break and became insulated, conducting private conversations under high stress and were afraid of losing potential future revenue should they disagree with NASA. Lastly, all parties were afraid of public and political response to another launch cancellation (there had already been six that year). Each party began to rationalise that past success equalled future success. Perhaps the most significant flaw on launch day was when Thiokol had stayed with its recommendation to cancel the launch. After having a private five minute meeting with his members, Thiokol had changed its decision to launch without any objection [NASA (1993 10)].
Thus with reference to the five reasons stated; groupthink have played a part in influencing the decision to launch. This example shows us how serious groupthink can affect the outcome of decisions.
In order to avoid Groupthink, the best way is to get people not to think and behave as a group. These strategies involved; Encouraging group members to act as individuals with critical thought and questioning.
Another way is to use external methods to monitor group decisions by either listening advice from outside-experts or feedback from external bodies. Maintaining flux in group-membership by changing group membership periodically or dividing group into sub-groups. Airlines practiced changing of flight crews for every flight, thus this provide less cohesiveness among crews which reduces the risk of groupthink.
Bay of Pigs Invasion 1961
The following example starred President Kennedy and his advisers who were initiating a small-scale plan to overthrow the Cuban government of Castro's. The assumption was made that the small Cuban Exiles in the training and support of the United States was sifficient to overwhelm the Cuban army and trigger a spontaneous rebellion against the current government. Many of Kennedy's advisers who doubted this assumption did not speak up. The ones who did were questioned of their loyalty. Within a few hours of the invasion, the invaders were killed of captured which left decision makers wondering how anyone could make such a ridiculous decision in such a short time without regard to information and support.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was not originally drafted by President Kennedy but by his predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration which would be handled by the CIA. When Kennedy was sworn in, all the hard work was already done and the final piece was to give the green light.
Within the first few hours of operation, the invasion was a clear failure because support was not apparent from the locals whom they put hope on. On the contrary, the locals strongly supported Castro and his Revolution. Spokesperson, ambassadors and people close the Kennedy were being put as scapegoats as Adlai E. Stevenson, US ambassador to the United Nations was referred by Kennedy as “my official liar”. Stevenson denied the Cuban’s charges about any attack on Cuba but after a few hours the truth was revealed and Stevenson was humiliated.
A few months later, the people responsible for the planning of the invasion – Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, Deputy Director of Operations Richard Bissell and Air Force General Charles Cabell were fired. (Travel and History, n.d. ).