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Groupthink Conflicts and Norms

written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/14/2010

What is Groupthink? What kinds of conflicts happen during this negative process and how can groups avoid it at all costs?

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    Conflict can happen at any time during a group process and in most situations, this is a normal event in which different people have different ideas and different ways on how to go about implementing them within a project. However, some times the conflict causes a team of workers to fall apart and in some cases, resort to the term known as groupthink.

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    What is Groupthink?

    Groupthink is a term that defines what happens when members of a group (or the entire group itself) begin to make faulty decisions due to the presumed pressures that result in the collaboration of completing a project. It was coined and developed by Professor Irving Janis, who was a research psychologist and professor at both Yale University and the University of California at Berkley.

    The main problem with groupthink is that is takes away from the individual ideas and considerations of each team member. Many people think that having any sort of conflict within the group is cause for alarm; after all, you're trying to work for a common goal and the last thing anyone wants is for a friendly discussion to quickly spiral out of control and into a heated argument. However, without the conflict - that is to say, without the different points of view against someone else's - individual members may not see a reason to speak up, especially if they have a difference of opinion in regards to the discussion.

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    How to Prevent Groupthink

    Groupthink conflicts and norms can have many different forms - groupthink conflicts can include having a very cohesive team that works well together, to the point where everyone may share the same idea. There is of course nothing wrong with this, however this cohesiveness may limit the group to thinking outside of their own ideals and avoiding anything that may upset those ideals or have group them proven to be wrong in some aspects. Other conflicts include excluding people who may have different ideas or those members who challenge the consensus.

    A groupthink set of norms - that is, ways in which a team can prevent groupthink - is by actually selecting someone to play "devil's advocate", someone who will come up with the opposing viewpoint of the rest of the group. This helps to pinpoint any flaws in the current and opens dialog in which to prevent the flaws from occurring. An added idea would be to rotate this position within the group, especially if the members are working on a lengthy project.

    Another preventive measure is to allow for everyone's ideas to be expressed and to make sure that the members are aware that all ideas can be expressed and are up for debate. This allows for everyone's thoughts to be heard and discussed.

    The leader of a project also needs to make sure to stay impartial to the ideas presented. While the leader may agree or disagree, his or her personal stake or reasoning must not be an influence on the discussion. Even if the leader does not agree with an idea, that idea may be the one that works better for everyone involved.