Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Consequences of Groupthink

There is a pitfall of group decision-making that all groups should carefully avoid.  It is called "groupthink".  A group makes a bad decision and later finds out that a majority of group members thought it was a bad idea all along but were afraid to speak up during discussions.  The term is used when referring to the negative group pressure which causes bad group decisions.

Vietnam and The Bay of Pigs are classic examples of groupthink.  A majority of the policy makers involved in each case felt very uneasy about the decision to proceed but did not share their concerns during deliberations.  Some thought the group would make the right decision while others were afraid to confront the President or go against the perceived majority.

The tragedy of groupthink is that the group fails to make the decision that all of the individuals know is best.  To avoid groupthink, it is important to encourage discussion and critical evaluation of ideas and to be sure to hear others' viewpoints.  Consensus, when done right, helps groups avoid the pitfall of groupthink and arrive at good decisions.

Guidelines for Coming to Consensus   
  • Avoid arguing for your own rankings.  Present your position as lucidly and logically as possibly, but listen to the other members' reactions and consider them carefully before you press your point.
  • Don't assume that someone must win and someone must lose when discussion reaches a stalemate.  Instead, look for the next-most-acceptable alternative for all parties.
  • Don't change your mind simply to avoid conflict and to reach agreement and harmony.  When agreement seems to come too quickly and easily, be suspicious.  Explore the reasons, and be sure everyone accepts the solution for basically similar or complementary reasons.  Yield only to positions that have objective and logically-sound foundations.
  • Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, averages, coin-flips, and bargaining.  When a dissenting member finally agrees, don't feel that he must be rewarded by having his own way on some later point.
  • Seek out differences of opinion, trying to involve everyone in the decision-making process.  Differences of opinion are natural and expected.  Disagreements can help the group's decision because there is a greater chance that the group finds better solutions when they have a wide range of information and opinions. 
Until next time...

Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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