As humans, decision-making forms part of our activities. Groups, as well as individuals, take decisions on issues presented to them. In our society, we usually assign groups, rather than individuals, with vital decisions. These groups comprise of individuals from different backgrounds, with different attitudes.
Working in groups however comes with some advantages such as; when group members interact, they often generate new ideas and solutions that they would have not arrived at individually(Watson, 1931). Group members are also more likely than individuals to notice and correct mistakes that can harm sound decision making(Ziller, 1957). They, additionally, have better collective memory, meaning that many minds hold more relevant information than one. Also, when individual group members share information that is unique to them, they increase the total amount of data that the group can then draw on when making sound decisions(Johnson & Johnson, 2012).
But the important question to ask here is whether we are always right in entrusting groups more than individuals to reach sound decisions. Are many heads really better than one?.
Have you ever sat in a group where, with retrospect, a somewhat irresponsible decision was reached?. If you have, then, you probably already have your own answer to this question.
The more interesting question then becomes why are many heads sometimes worse than one?
Let’s explore some of the most dramatic reasons.
Groups can make effective decisions only when they are able to make use of the advantages outlined above that come with group membership. However, these conditions are not always met in real groups. On example of a group process that can lead to very poor group decision is GROUP THINK.
It tends to occur more in situations where group members are very similar to one another and it is more likely to take place when a powerful and charismatic leader commands the group.
Group Think also occurs when a group that is made up of members who may actually be very competent and thus quite capable of making excellent decisions nevertheless ends up making a poor one as a result of a flawed group process and strong conformity pressure(Baron, 2005; Janis,2007).
Conformity to group norms is driven by two motivations – the desire to fit in and be liked, and the desire to be accurate and gain information from the group.The pressure for conformity also lead to the situation in which only few of the group members are actually involved in conversation, whereas the others do not express any opinions. In some cases, the leader may even select individuals (known as mind guards) whose job it is to help quash dissent and to increase conformity to the leader’s opinions.
The problem is that groups suffering from group think become unwilling to discuss disagreeing information about the topic at hand, and the group members do not express contradictory opinions. Due to the fact that group members are afraid to express ideas that contradict those of the leader or to bring in outsiders who have other information, the group is prevented from making a fully informed decision.
Why does groupthink occur?
There are several causes of groupthink;
- When the group is highly cohesive, or has a strong sense of connection, maintaining group harmony may become more important to the group than making sound decisions.
- If the group leader is directive and makes his opinions known, this may discourage group members from disagreeing with the leader.
- If the group is isolated from hearing alternative or new viewpoints, groupthink may be more likely to occur.
Effect of groupthink
Groupthink can severely undermine the value of a group’s work and, at its worst, it can cost people their lives. On a lesser scale, it can stifle teamwork, and leave all but the most vocal team members disillusioned and dissatisfied. If you’re on a team that makes a decision you don’t really support but you feel you can’t say or do anything about it, your enthusiasm will quickly fade.
Teams are capable of being much more effective than individuals but, when Groupthink sets in, the opposite can be true.
People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.
In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.
Solution to groupthink
There are several strategies that can improve group decision making including seeking outside opinions, voting in private, having the leader withhold position statements until all group members have voiced their views, conducting research on all viewpoints, weighing the costs and benefits of all options, and developing a contingency plan (Janis, 1972; Mitchell & Eckstein, 2009).
Additionally, when a leader creates a healthy group-working environment where people share their views, agree or disagree to decision, you can help ensure that the group makes good decisions, and manages any associated risks appropriately.
In a nutshell, groupthink do happen in all organizations and institutions in the world. It seems much attention has not been paid to this phenomenon. This article is to enable leaders and people in authority or higher positions to take note so as not to lose views of people who can turn a decision around for the good of the organization or institution.
Principles of Social Psychology-1st International Edition: (Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani(2014) and Dr. Hammond Tarry(2014), Charles Stangor:pg 436, 437, 438)