Group Think

GROUP THINK

Group think is an extreme form of consensus in which the group thinks as unit rather than as a collection of individuals. It is a kind of consensus – seeking process that goes on in a cohesive group. When a group is too cohesive new ideas may be rejected too quickly. Members are imbued with feelings of “We know best”. There is a tremendous desire for unanimity. Seeking consensus becomes an end in itself. Free exchange of ideas is inhibited. Some members in a group may be timid or cowed down by dominating members imposing their ideas on others. At other times, the group members try to promote consensus at the possible expense of arriving at a more defective solutions. Lack of group’s low-risk, conservative traditional and mediocre decisions. Group members cease to think independently. Irving Janis used the ‘group think’ to describe the unfortunate situation in which the desire to agree becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Members try to avoid being too harsh in their judgments of one another’s ideas. They adopt a soft line of criticism. At their meetings, all the members are chummy and seek complete agreement on every important issue. As a result of little or no real criticism, the illusion of unanimity is created.

1. Symptoms of Group Think

Group think is characterized by a “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures. The following symptoms have been identified with group think.

  1. Illusions of invulnerability which leads to over optimism. Groups ignore danger signals and take excessive risks.
  2. Rationalization: Collective efforts at rationalization so as to discredit warnings that might force members to question their policy decisions.
  3. An unflinching faith in the group’s morality, leading members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their results.
  4. Persons or groups with opinions differing from those of the group are stereotyped as weak, stupid or evil.
  5. Conformity pressure is applied very strongly by the group to any member who deviates or even expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s thinking.
  6. Self-censorship develops as members apply pressure to themselves to avoid deviating from the apparent group consensus.
  7. In the absence of real criticism, the illusion of unanimity is created; the appearance of unanimity tends to keep criticism from being expressed. Each member believes that all other members agree with group standards.
  8. The emergence of self-appointed mind guards, defined as members who protect the group from information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions. 

2. Consequences of Group Think

Under group think conditions the following consequences may be identified:

  1. Discussion is limited to only a few alternatives.
  2. Once a decision is taken, re-examination is unlikely even in the light of (valuable thought) new information.
  3. Little or no time is spent trying to find ways to overcome the problems that have made rejected alternatives seem undesirable.
  4. Little or no effort is made to obtain information from experts within the organization.
  5. Facts are ignored unless they are supportive of the group.

No contingency plans are developed by which to cop with foreseeable difficulties that could endanger the success of the group’s chosen course.

3 The Remedy for Group Think

When group think does occur, positive action must be taken if the group is to be effective in performing its task. As we have seen, concurrence-seeking will smoother objective consideration and evaluation of alternatives. The following steps are recommended by Janis to overcome group think tendencies;

 

  1. Encourage the group members to express doubts and criticisms of proposed solutions to problems. Permit critical evaluation of group ideas by members freely.
  1. Allow key members to adopt an initial impartial stance on solutions.
  1. Divide the group in subgroups to stimulate ideas. Then have the subgroups confront one another to examine why they differ.
  1. Periodically invite qualified outsiders to challenge group views.
  1. Allow at least one member to play a devil’s advocate role to oppose the views of other groups members.
  1. After arriving at a tentative decision in a particular way, allow the group to hold a second chance meeting wherein members fully describe every possible doubt they have about the solution reached.