written by: George Garza•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 10/6/2010
Groupthink is about how people in groups think. They behave differently than they otherwise would if each person was alone. Groupthink is concurrent thinking, which leads to the deterioration in the quality of individual decision-making. The purpose behind concurrence seeking is to reduce anxiety.
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This look at groupthink activities starts with this scenario: A group of programming students, working in small teams, has a set of requirements. Their job is to specify the behavior of a ordinary desktop telephone with integrated answering machine. They must coordinate their activity to determine how successful their design specification was. The game poses some questions about the how a telephone behaves, and each team member must answer the questions individually. There are no right or wrong answers; instead, the goal of the groupthink game is for all team members to give the same answer. This indicates that they have constructed a specification that they can all understand and that covers all possible behaviors.
Another groupthink activity involves students solving a cryptographic puzzle. From the entire group, you create teams and each person receives a set of the same instructions on what to do. However, there is also one set of “secret" instructions given to one person in the entire group.
The overallgame occurs in two-minute intervals. If the team can decrypt the message in 2 minutes, the rewarded is 200 points; between 2 and 3 minutes, 50 points and after 3 minutes, 0 points.
The “secret" set of instructions involves the following: Teams should cooperate with each other, and each team should work to decrypt one word, and then share the results with the other teams. All teams can win if they get the answer within the allotted time period. The person holding the “secret" instructions becomes the defactoleader and can run the Groupthink activity. The teams can choose to go along with the suggestions or not. However, there is a greater chance of success if all teams work cooperatively, instead of individually.
In 1996, eight people died during a single day in their attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Not only first-time climbers, but seasoned veterans who had reached the summit before died on that day. Journalist Jon Krakauer has documented the entire story in his book, “Into Thin Air."
Several Groupthink featuresbecome clear from this fiasco. The team leaders, who were leading a commercial venture, had failed in reaching the summit with their clients in previous attempts. So there was pressure and prestige to do well by their clients this time around.
One of the elements that they had discussed was how fast the weather could change on the mountain, and because of that, they were to turnback if they had not reached a summit or landmark by a certain time.
Unfortunately, the team leaders did not heed their own warnings and advice. Here are some of the group think elements: The climbers were a tightly knit group. There was insulation from external advice.The leaders promoted their own preferred solutions, while at the same time there was a lack of clear decision-making.
Groupthink can impact decision making in both positive and negative ways. Groups who cooperate can use it to solve problems, but also use it in ways that hurt the group and the individuals as well. It is not enough to have a common goal. The cryptographic and telephone specification groupthink activities showed that; but so did the Mount Everest example. Groupthink as a working solution can involve working with the entire group and reaching a consensus. However, it is also important to have a leader that can make decisions.