Avoiding Groupthink: Avoiding Fatal Flaws in Group Decision Making
You will agree that making decisions is not the easiest thing to do. Still, we do it, every day, every minute, every second.
Sometimes we are quite aware of that process, while in other moments we are not.
And there are times when we simply cannot make out whether we are using our own heads during the procedure, or perhaps it’s a result of a group impact.
Our task here is to help you learn more about avoiding groupthink.
Find out more about avoiding fatal flaws in group decision making as that’s the only way to keep things going the right way-your way.
Each type of thinking has its own pros and cons, but some people find it difficult to stick to their own opinions and beliefs.
That’s because they lack some basic skills which may help them strengthen their own attitude and be more self-confident.
Stay with us for more useful tips!
HOW TO DEFINE GROUPTHINK?
You probably know the moment- the one when you feel that things are on some desirable course and out of nowhere “blindspots” appear and confuse you!
You realize that you don’t even know what were you suppose to decide about, is it your duty after all or should the group be involved as well?
Congrats, you are a just about to get into the nasty trap called Groupthink! This intriguing term was created back in 1972 by Irving L. Janis.
This social psychologist used it to describe an interesting phenomenon in which individuals often set aside their own beliefs and opt for the one that the group shares, striving to make a consensus.
It’s an integral part of human’s nature to use common sense while making a decision.
This involves several components such as expressing critiques and unpopular attitudes, giving alternatives.
However, when the phenomenon we mentioned takes its place, the ability to make decisions and solve issues using exclusively your head slowly begins to fade away.
Of course, this does not mean that sharing the same opinion with the group is necessarily a bad thing always.
The psychologist wanted to find out that curious case where the group can make a good decision in one moment and then make a disastrous one in the very next.
Long story short- he blamed it all on poor analyses of alternatives as well as the lack of opposing opinions and conflicts.
On top of it all, he also pointed out that an insufficient amount of information leads to the impossibility to make an informed decision.
Before we get deeper into analyzing this phenomenon, allow us to give you two most popular examples that illustrate it. Those are Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and Bay of Pigs invasion.
In the first one, engineers of the spacecraft were knowledgeable about some faulty parts months before the launch, but they did not want negative press so they proceeded with the take-off anyway.
The other one refers to President Kennedy’s decision which encountered the support from individuals around him, despite their concerns.
RECOGNIZING GROUPTHINK-LEARNING THE SYMPTOMS
Now that you have the definition, you may think that spotting it is as simple as it can be.
Well, don’t be fooled, because even though the explanation itself is rather clear, numerous factors which are included in it make it more challenging to recognize it easily.
However, there are several occasions where this phenomenon occurs more frequently, and that’s when there’s:
- Extreme cohesion in the team
- Plenty of strong external pressure to make a good decision
- An atmosphere of isolation where a team operates
- A determined and persuasive leader to represent the group
- No standard means for evaluation of suggestions
- Homogenous ideology and social background of the team
- Plenty of performance-related stress in the community
- A recent failure and numerous moral dilemmas
Unveiling a layer by layer of this complex behavior leads us to the next step, which is learning more about the symptoms which are common for it. Here comes the list:
When an individual in the team gives an opinion which opposes to the one others have or questions the rationality behind a decision, the rest of the group work unitedly to pressure or penalize that person and make him/her compliant.
Such individuals are often considered to be a sort of traitorous and disloyal outcasts.
It’s a common case that the group puts a sarcastic demand before such person, by reminding him/her that leaving the team is an option if such person feels that the group is making a mistake.
This usually comes as a result of uninformed views in the group.
Those who advocate individual opinion are seen as “party breakers” because having an opposite and inferior set of morals and characteristics from the rest of the team is simply not right.
Such a group attitude leads to discrediting someone’s opposition.
This goes so far that the group even begins to ignore or demonize the “outcasts” who may oppose, question or challenge the team’s ideas.
This is one of the most common traps which often appears as a consequence of the first two symptoms we described.
After a few rightfully made decisions, the community begins to feel like anything they decide is the unquestionably correct one because no-one disagrees with it.
To strengthen such common belief and keep the community under such an impression, the track record of successful (group) decisions is often mentioned.
The purpose of this is to encourage people to believe that group thinking is the only way to reach success.
To make individuals censor their opinions, by persuading themselves that their thoughts are surely wrong if they are different from the rest of the group.
Any information that is not compatible with what the team advocates is strongly rejected. There are no alternatives.
This occurs when the entire team convinces themselves that the group decision is the best one, despite evidence that proves otherwise.
As an argument, such people often say that the others haven’t researched the situation to the detail, which is why their (individual) decision is not right.
Moral High Ground
In a group, each person believes that he/she is ethical.
When a group consists of several moral minds, it’s impossible to make a poor decision.
Adding righteousness as a mandatory component for making decisions, the pressure gradually grows.
That’s because no-one wants to be seen as immoral.
Illusion of Consensus
When no-one’s opinion stands out or no individual speaks out, the entire team feels the community’s decision is unanimous.
Such an attitude feeds the Groupthink and everyone believes that the entire community feels the same.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO AVOID GROUPTHINK?
if you feel that during a meeting the mentioned symptoms are present, stay calm. Panic won’t help, but a clear mind will.
What has to be done is think of smart ways to prevent killing critical thinking and inspire individuals to have an uncommon approach while solving problems.
Here’s a procedure that might be of help:
1) Everyone in the team should have a critical evaluation of ideas.
This is one of the simplest steps.
How to perform it, you wonder?
Well, ask everyone in the team to take several moments to note down both the advantages and disadvantages of suggestions that have been given before the debate takes place.
Though this is more than simple, not everybody feels free enough to express themselves. If you are still worried, there’s a solution to solve all your worries.
Get a polling app that allows individuals in the team to vote or comment on subjects anonymously.
2) The boss of the team must keep all ideas to him/herself.
When one is a leader, his/her opinions have a big impact on others.
That’s where the issues may appear, as shy employees will think twice before disagreeing with the leader’s opinion or suggesting an idea that is better than the one expressed by the leader.
Leaders should try to prevent the situation where his/her beliefs lead to a discussion.
If that happened, plenty of great opportunities to discover individual talents and strengths in the team will be missed, and that is sometimes critical to future successes.
3) The team head should be a no-show.
Even when one is completely silent, body language is never on mute. It’s impossible to turn it off.
That’s particularly problematic during meetings.
Even when one says nothing, people in the team know his/her feeling about the situation.
If you want to boost the self-confidence in individuals in your team, let them know that you value their suggestions so much that you plan to be absent from certain group discussions.
That way your presence won’t have a notable impact on the final result.
4) Consider a team approach.
In case the community is a larger one, try with randomly dividing members into smaller communities. Give them the task to work on the same issue.
Such an approach will have multiple benefits for the group- it will strengthen the relationship between people in the team, they will learn to discuss and value each other’s opinions.
What’s even more, such a competitive atmosphere will inspire them to propose as many solutions as possible, striving to give the best one that will win.
5) A thorough investigation of all alternatives.
After the team came up with a list of suggestions or solutions, submit them to a standardized method of assessment.
This is a simple procedure, as all it takes is to give the answers to some common questions such as:
- How does this concept support the goal?
- What are the expenses of this approach?
- What are the risks behind such a decision? and similar.
6) An external perspective is a must.
When the evaluation of various ideas and solutions begins, here’s an extra assignment for each member of the team. Ask them to get an outsider’s opinion.
This works for the majority of the situation.
However, if the solutions being discussed are sensitive, advise members to talk to specific and trusted leader inside the organization.
7) Consultations from an outbound expert.
Even when the team is highly specialized in a specific niche, sometimes a project or solution has segments that go beyond the expertise of the community.
The best move in such situations is to consider asking an outside expert to attend the meeting and participate in the discussion solutions proposed by the team.
Outsiders often give a refreshing change to community dynamics, and expert opinions make it possible for everyone in the group to learn from a professional’s understandings and wisdom.
8) Who gets to be the devil’s advocate today?
Once all the participants are present, draw straws to see who will be in charge of playing the devil’s advocate for the discussion.
The chosen person will have to “think like an enemy” and oppose all popular suggestions during the discussion.
The purpose of this is to support healthy debate and test the strength of different arguments.
USEFUL TECHNIQUES TO DEAL WITH GROUPTHINK
What made a revolution in approaching the problems in a company or a group is- team building activities.
By playing a variety of engaging games, solving seemingly silly tasks and having lots of fun, members of the group build a strong relationship with each other.
Here are two “games” we selected, which can minimize risk for Groupthink to show up:
Six Thinking Hats
This interesting challenge forces you to leave aside your customary thinking style and to approach things from several various perspectives.
This allows you to get a more complete overlook of your situation.
Each of the hats represents a diverse way of thinking, and here’s what each of them means:
White portrays your concentrate on the available information.
You have to look at the data you have, analyze past tendencies, and find out what you can learn from it.
The task is to find gaps in your knowledge and do your best to fill them or use them as a direction what is it that you should learn.
Red represents intuition, gut reaction, and feelings when you are trying to solve the issue.
While “wearing” this one, take other people’s emotional reactions into consideration.
Do your best to understand the responses of individuals who are not fully familiar with your reasoning.
Black illustrates potentially negative consequences in the thinking process.
Therefore, your attitude has to be cautious and defensive to see why it might not work.
To put things simply, this hat highlights the weak points in the strategy and while “wearing” it, you have the power to eliminate and change them, or come up with several emergency plans to fight them.
This way of reasoning toughens you and your plan-making process. Thanks to this, you can spot potentially fatal mistakes and risks before you take any action.
The ultimate advantage of this hat is the “super-vision” that a person gets.
Sometimes successful individual gets so used to a positive way of thinking that they often miss seeing issues in advance, which is why they become under-prepared for difficult moments.
The yellow hat is the one to boost positive reasoning.
Such an optimistic view serves so you can see all the good sides of the decision as well as the value in it.
When everything looks miserable and difficult, put on this one, and the perspective will suddenly become brighter.
Green equals creativity. When this one’s on your head, you suggest uncommon and ingenious answers to a problem. It is a free way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of concepts.
Blue indicates process control. Individuals who chair the meetings usually wear this one. When difficult moments occur because suggestions are running dry, they may lead activity into the creative direction by putting the green one on.
When emergency plans are necessary, they will look for the Black one to wear.
On the contrary, there’s nothing stormy here, as this procedure mixes a relaxed, informal approach to fixing issues with lateral thinking.
The purpose of such a method is to motivate individuals to come up with suggestions that can, at first, seem a bit silly.
Some of these concepts can be transformed into original, uncommon answers to the situation, while others can trigger even more concepts.
This helps to get individuals unstuck by inspiring them to abandon their common ways of doing things and making them think outside the box.
During these sessions, individuals should avoid criticizing or rewarding suggestions.
The goal is to come up with numerous options and break down wrong premises about the problem’s limits.
Judgment and analysis at this phase obstruct concept creation and limit originality. Evaluation of suggested concepts takes place at the end of the session.
That’s where using common methods occur.
Standard group problem solving can often be jeopardized by unhelpful community behavior.
And while it’s significant, to begin with, a structured, analytical procedure when fixing issues, this can lead a community to develop a restricted and unimaginative approach to suggesting concepts.
By contrast, this approach provides a free and open surrounding that motivates everyone to be involved.
Unconventional suggestions are welcomed and supported, and all members are inspired to contribute fully, helping them deliver a wide range of creative concepts.
When used during fixing issues, this process brings community members’ diverse experience into play. It levels-up the richness of suggestions explored, which means that you can often find better answers to the issues that you are confronted with.
It can also help you get buy-in from community members for the selected solution – after all, they’re likely to be more dedicated to an approach if they were involved in developing it.
What’s more, because masterminding is fun, it helps group members strengthen their relationships with each other, as they fix issues in a positive, rewarding atmosphere.
While this process can be effective, it’s significant to deal with it with an open-minded and non-judgmental way of thinking. If you don’t do this, people don’t feel like suggesting anything, the number, and quality of ideas decrease, and morale can suffer.
However, if the phenomenon does set in, you must recognize and announce its presence rapidly so that you can overcome it and get back to functioning effectively.
These are the steps to go beyond it with as less trouble as possible:
- Even with good group decision-making processes in place, watch out for signals, so you can deal with them as soon as you spot them.
- If there are signs of the phenomenon, talk about them in the community. Once confirmed, the team as a whole can consciously free up its decision making.
- Evaluate the immediate risks of any approach, and the consequences for the community and its members. If they are high (for example risk of personal safety), make sure you take steps to completely analyze any decision before it is approved.
- If appropriate, seek outside approval, get more external data, and test hypothesis. Refer to these steps above as a starting point in spotting things that need to be altered.
- Come up with ordinary group techniques and decision-making tools and encourage the community to think of their “games”.
As you have seen, this phenomenon is not a rare one, but still, there are ways to learn to spot it and deal with it.
We gave you the definition along with the list of symptoms so that you can be aware of it when this process occurs.
Besides this, you are now familiar with practical techniques and games that will help you overcome it and support a creative and positive way of thinking.
Each person and his/her opinion has its unique value and can give a valuable contribution, particularly when the problem is complex and multi-layered.
That’s why open-mindedness and critical thinking should always be encouraged.
With such energy in the team, the chances to be successful are even bigger.
And that’s exactly what motivates individuals to keep on pushing, for their own and the benefit of the community.
Use our guide as a reference whenever you have doubts and always look for more games and techniques to improve skills and learn to eventually eliminate even the slightest possibility for Groupthink to occur.