Working with a Group of Coworkers? Beware of Groupthink!

Teamwork is common in today’s workplace. Every day, large groups of employees tackle large projects together and learn how to work through differences to reach their common goal. Aside from strong clashing personalities, the biggest thing that can chip away at a team’s efficacy is Groupthink.

Some of you may be familiar with the term from college courses, but here is a refresher on why you need to watch out for this destructive mindset the next time you work in a group with your coworkers.

What is it?

Groupthink is a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis. It refers to a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity results in clouded decision-making. This can happen when group members try to reduce or avoid conflict among themselves to reach a consensus without critically evaluating other ideas or viewpoints, and then by isolating themselves from outside influences.  (psysr.org)

Symptoms  – What to watch out for

There are eight documented symptoms of groupthink:

  • Illusion of invulnerability – Members of the group think nothing can bring them down, so they take greater risks.
  • Collective rationalization – Members ignore warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  • Belief in inherent morality – Members of the group believe in the rightness of their cause and then ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of the “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against the group’s views.
  • Self-censorship – This is members feel like they cannot express their doubts about the group’s decisions.
  • Illusion of unanimity – This when members agree to something because they believe everyone else stands behind the decision, too.
  • Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from problematic or contradictory information that could hurt the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

Results

As you may have gathered from the symptoms, groupthink can be very dangerous. Group members become so enamored with the group’s cohesiveness that they block out opposing views, regardless of how constructive they are for their work. Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that can dehumanize other groups. To sum it up, groupthink can be disastrous.

Ways to Prevent Groupthink

There are many ways to combat groupthink, but one of the most effective is appointing a strong leader who is willing to listen to alternative ideas and then play devil’s advocate when decisions are being made. Other ways to fight this phenomenon are to bring in members with diverse backgrounds, create clear rules for the team’s decision making and allowing outside influences to impact your choices.

Groupthink is a real problem with sometimes catastrophic outcomes. Next time you work in a team with your coworkers, take the necessary precautions and watch for the symptoms, so you can be certain that your team’s decision making is well thought out and sound.

 

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