Groupthink: 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.” – Irving Janis
- When you don’t share your opinion with your team because you fear that they will not like you anymore, you are contributing to groupthink.
- When you don’t share your opinion with your team because you were threatened by one of the team members the last time you differed from the group’s aligned position, you were forced to contribute to groupthink.
- When you attack a team member after they share their opinion because their opinion (or more strongly, the facts they presented) would weaken your group’s aligned position, you are demanding groupthink.
Beware the horrors and terrors that groupthink produces. While you may think you are saving the group from discord or drama or days of discussion, you are really destroying–perhaps subtly, though often overtly–the group’s ability to function successfully.
When you observe a group deep into groupthink and you want to break them free, it will be an act of courage to point out the groupthink to them.
Why it is an act of courage?
Because the group norms that keep them in groupthink will make attacking your position appear, from their perspective, both rational and essential for the sake of their group.
I’ll admit I haven’t done enough research to be able to tell you a few great tricks for how to free a group from group think. At this point all I can tell you is avoidance techniques:
- Know the term, groupthink, and be on the lookout for it growing in your groups,
- Don’t allow your own behavior to drive groupthink in your group (e.g,. ask the group regularly who disagrees and allow them to share their full position without question instead of forcing your opinion upon the group), and when all else fails
- Summon up the courage however you can to act forcefully to free those you see deep into groupthink. Offer them a different position. Stand firm with your facts when they attack. Take your beating and bear your consequences. You may not win, but you just might wake them up.
Extra Credit: You no doubt have heard of the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, but did you know it is an often cited example of the real dangers of groupthink.
Read the wikipedia entry on Roger Boisjoly, an engineer who spoke out against the consensus and could not prevail in time. He is quoted as saying, “the caucus called by Morton Thiokol managers, which resulted in a recommendation to launch, ‘constituted the unethical decision-making forum resulting from intense customer intimidation.'”