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Reflection – Kate Bogh

by on December 1, 2007

Avoiding Groupthink
Groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about group decision making and how groups go about making decisions. Lots of times, in small groups, it is easier to agree with one another than discuss different options to ensure the best decision is made. Oftentimes, in small groups, where one or two personalities, are stronger than others, there is one prevailing opinion and others are not heard.

As an undergrad, I took a class on small group facilitation and, of course, one of the main topics was groupthink. It is surprising how easy it is for groups to fall into patterns of groupthink. Groupthink hinders the ability of group to make the best decisions possible.

I now have a lot of respect for people whose opinions go against other stated opinions especially if they have a reason behind why they believe their choice is the better one. This is especially important in organizational group work and as most of us will most likely be working in small groups in our jobs, this is an important concept to understand.

Groupthink is most common when group members do not know each other well, are in a hurry to finish a project or are afraid of conflict. Groupthink may also occur if group members do not know each other very or if they know each other too well.

It is difficult to address group think once it is identified. I think this is because, once a group gets used to group think, changing the common pattern takes a conscience effort. There are resources available with suggestions of how to avoid groupthink.

Oftentimes, just learning what groupthink is, will help a group address issues of group think. Being objections and addressing other possibilities, even when they seem a bit outrageous are ways to avoid group think.

Shine Consulting recommends pointing out groupthink if you see it happening. Specify what you see happening and how you believe it is affecting the end decision. Another way to identify groupthink early on is to identify one group member as the ‘devil’s advocate’, someone whose job it is to look for groupthink within the group (Shine).

If the group has a leader, it is important that the leader take account of and allow the expression of differing opinions or ideas (Shine). The leader, if there is one, plays a valuable role and can be an excellent means for the analysis and prevention of groupthink.
Also, groups, especially those making very important decisions, should consider the possibility of hiring a facilitator to assist in the decision making process. In class, while reviewing change management issues, the class has considered the possibility of bringing in facilitators and the valuable roles they can play.

With the increased usage of group work and group decision making processes, knowing how to avoid groupthink as a team member or a leader is a valuable tool. While it can be challenging to bring up concerns of groupthink in a team, it is crucial that teams make good decisions whether they are determining which direction the company is going, prioritizing projects, deciding on additional software features, or how they will spend their time.

Resources:
AllBusiness. “Helping Your Staff Avoid ‘Groupthink’”. URL: http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/employee-development-problem-solving/11257-1.html
All Business. “Resolving conflict on the team.” Taken from “Managing Conflict for Dummies”. August 2005. URL: http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/workforce-management-conflict-resolution/9890-1.html
Hilleard, Gil. “Beware: Groupthink!” Shine Consulting. December 2004. URL: http://www.shineconsulting.co.uk/extra42.html
MindTools. “Avoiding Groupthink: Avoiding sometimes-fatal flaws in group decision-making”. URL: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_82.htm

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