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Groupthink and How It Can Affect an Organization

written by: nataliajones•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/24/2010

Groupthink, and how it can affect an organization has been the topic of several forms of corporate analysis. While companies often benefit from workplace collaboration when it comes to teaming up, care must always be taken to prevent the effects of groupthink.

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    What Is Groupthink?

    Groupthink Irving Janis, a research psychologist at Yale University and the theorist behind groupthink, famously defines it as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group," and "when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action."

    From the definition above, it is easy to see that groupthink and how it can affect an organization are well worth investigating.

    Simply put, groupthink is a phenomenon that causes the behavioral patterns and the thought-processes of people who work closely together to morph into one. When this occurs, the group is no longer capable of producing several different opinions and then debating on the best approach begins. The group becomes a single organism that can only come up with one uniformed answer to any problem or question.

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    How Groupthink Affects an Organization

    Quite obviously, this is an undesirable and even dangerous result. Although consensus is not at all a bad thing, if it is arrived at without much thought, there could be a problem. Consensus as a result of a lack of differing opinions and not because different perspectives were tried and tested and then a single approach was chosen, is a sign that groupthink could potentially pose a threat to the collaborative workplace effort.

    The following are a few of the consequences of groupthink in an organization.

    Creativity is Stifled

    When a group of people work together for an extended period of time, usually several months or even years, there is the threat that groupthink may force out creativity. Over time, members within the group assume different roles and a level of comfort ensues. This can lead to territorial attitudes and stifle suggestions that may lead to different perspectives and solutions. Those who are not used to speaking out on certain issues may censor themselves because they do not want to rock the boat.

    Bad Decisions are Made Because There is No Opposition

    Groupthink can create an overwhelming desire for unanimous decisions. When the group becomes accustomed to coming to complete agreement, they believe that this is the only way forward. While a decision that has the full support of all group members may be preferable in some instances, it should never be placed above exploring all the options because of a fear satisfying everyone completely.

    Possible Solutions Might Be Overlooked

    The organization's interests must be placed above any individual and it's a good practice at least considering other possible courses of action. If groupthink has taken over a collaborative effort it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get a variety of suggestions on any issue because each individual member of the group has sacrificed his ability to think outside of the box in favor of conforming to the norms developed by the group as a whole. This can lead to complacency with the status quo and a general lack of vision.

    Profitability is Jeopardized

    When there is no critical thinking and situations are not properly analyzed because groupthink has taken over what might have once been an effective collaboration, profitability levels are bound to fall. This is because the group may start to be overconfident and fail to properly vet its decisions.

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    Now that there is a better understanding of groupthink and how it can affect an organization it is clear to see that steps must be taken to preserve the integrity of all collaborative work groups.

    Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net