The paper aims to assess the relationship between groupthink and team performance. First, it will review the conceptualisations of groupthink to analyse the effects of groupthink in organisations, focusing how it is formed and its manifestation in organizational performance, especially in group decision making. Secondly, my study will explain whether or not groupthink affects organisational performance through an analysis of the existent theory by Irving. L. Janis and the empirical studies conducted to examine the groupthink and group performance link. Finally, my paper shows some recommendations which reduce negative impacts of groupthink in workplace. Within my study, I also will support ideas by giving implications about groupthink in organisations in the light of theory.
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In the past several decades, there has been a substantial increase in emphasis on organisation behaviour literature, focusing on group decision making (Branstatter et al, 1982; Kerr and Tindale, 2004). The utilisation of group decision making, conducted in different type of tasks, has been credited with various benefits including improved productivity and enhancement of the quality of work life (Troopman, 1980). However, many researchers also review a potential problem that occurs within groups and that can dramatically hinder group effectiveness from their performance. This disease can be referred to as ‘groupthink’, which is presented the first time in 1972 by Irving L. Janis. The main point of theory on which Janis has been suggested is that the poor decisions of group suffering from groupthink derive from a strong concurrence-seeking tendency that suppresses collective decision-making processes, and leads to fiascos (Janis, 1972). Based on his achievement, a large body of research has shown a conscious awareness of the psychological phenomenon of groupthink as well as formulates some simple strategies to avoid it.
A review of groupthink
According to Janis (1972), groupthink is described as a “mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative course of action” (1972, p.9). Based on this theory, it is suspected that groupthink occurs when group members’ motivation for unanimity and agreement such as consensus overrules their motivation to evaluate carefully benefits of decisions as well as expression of deviant or minority opinions (Janis, 1972; Robbins and Judge, 2013). Many studies have evidenced that groups and teams can develop a high level of cohesiveness which tends to result in better performance. However, a considerable disadvantage of highly cohesive groups is that their decision making ability can be drastically restricted by Janis’s groupthink hypothesis. Indeed, strong cohesive groups, where group members are friendly and respectful of other’s opinions, can contribute to faulty decisions and a policy fiasco when such groups are immersed in poor decision making process under in-group pressures (Eaton, 2001). With the same view, in other words, Fincham and Rhodes (1999) argued that highly cohesive groups can create the pressures of conformity that reduce reflexivity, impeding members’ judgement and their ability to reach a correct decision. From this point, it is clearly seen that each member of a group finds it comfortable to be in agreement, following a positive part of the group, rather than to be an opposing force, even if this factor is potential to enhance the efficiency of the group’s decisions. This reveals a reality that individuals who have different opinions from that of the dominant majority have a tendency to withhold or modify their true feelings and beliefs, which leads to distort the decision making process (Robbins and Judge, 2013). In addition, Knights et al (2007) believed that groupthink can cause a disadvantage when learning activities stopped as any further development was largely stagnated by a consensus that was more based upon a withdrawal of respect than upon a useful critical insight to assessment of different information and alternative options. Therefore, when the group is attacked by groupthink, the problems are usually discussed and examined in an uncertain way, leaving many possible solutions and useful ideas (Knights et al, 2007). One of the clearest examples of groupthink which can be considered is the the explosion of the NASA Shuttle Challenger, 73 seconds after it launched in January 1986, killing seven astronauts. The disasters could have been easily prevented if the NASA team noticed the concerns from engineers on the readiness and safety of the Shuttle’s structure before it were launched (Moorhead et al, 1991). It could be concluded that groupthink impede the voices of members of the group who have their own opinions but are marginalised, and maintain an illusion of group unanimity, which may invalidate team performance and contribute in creating fiascos (Knights et al, 2007).
In addition, many researchers studied that the effectiveness of directive leadership is also one of the factors related to groupthink (Flowers, 1977; Mullen et al, 1994). They claimed that directive leadership has a weak connection with information being considered by the group, the discouragement of dissent, fewer solutions being found and more self-censorship by members (Flowers, 1977; Leana, 1985; Moorhead and Montanari, 1986). Based on previous studies, Moorhead et al (1998) believed that individuals’ opinions may be prevented from group interaction if there appears a strong leadership and group members just only follow their leaders without sufficient critical evaluation. For example, if the leader of the group suggests unethical ideas, and the group cannot control the rules to prescribe ethical behaviour, poor decision may be shaped (Sims, 1992). Similarly, Huczynski and Buchanan (2013) concluded that if the group leaders consider their position from the beginning and appear to have a strong preference for a particular goal, the groups tend to support their leader’s idea and do not have a chance to suggest alternative information or solutions.
Research on symptoms of groupthink
Groupthink, in most of viewpoints, is considered as a threat of organization. Fortunately, Janis (1972, 1982) described eight symptoms categorised in three types of characteristics which were experienced from the fiascos and serve as the powerful tool for recognising the existence of groupthink. They are: overestimation of the group (illusion of invulnerability; belief in inherent morality), closed-mindedness (collective rationalisations, stereotyped images of out-groups), and pressure towards uniformity (self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, direct pressures on dissenters, self-appointed mindguards) (Janis, 1972; Hart, 1991). These symptoms, according to Janis (1972), are considered as a collection of a concurrence-seeking tendency that can fade group decision making process and lead to fiascos, and even disasters. In his research, concurrence-seeking plays a vital role in collective decision making process; but, it will become excessive when it occurs too early in a limited access. In addition, Hart (1991) pointed that the signal of excessive concurrence-seeking can be derived from the pressures toward uniformity, and concurrence-seeking takes places in the context of misguide policy from the other two types of characteristics. However, According to Choi and Kim (1999), not all symptoms of groupthink tend to be associated with the others. Their study evidenced that pressure on dissenters, collective rationalisations, and self-censorship tend to be positively associated with each other but negatively associated with the belief in the illusion of invulnerability, the group’s inherent morality, and the illusion of unanimity. From that point, they also suggested that groupthink symptoms reflect two different processes that may occur in collective decision making: the positive correlations between the illusions of invulnerability and unanimity with the belief in the group morality, contrary to the emergence of mindguards, self-censorship, pressure on dissenters, and stereotypes of outgroups. Similarly, Park (2000) examined symptoms of groupthink based on the groupthink model’s Janis and went to a conclusion that the symptom groupings tend to produce negative correlations across the divergent processes. This strengthens for the argument of Longley and Pruit (1980) that the symptoms of groupthink have a strong connection with defective decision making process which would qualify as high quality.
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How to avoid groupthink
It is clearly seen that groupthink is an invisible barrier that causes negative effects on group decision making process and lead to serious consequences. However, Janis’s achievement on groupthink theory has paved the way for researchers finding methods to avoid this phenomenon. Macleod (2011) suggested that it is important for managers to foster group cohesiveness along with a shared sense of professional solidarity. At the same time, it is also important to create an impartial comfort zone in which each member of a group is encouraged to have an active voice in the exchange of ideas and in the evaluation of options. Moreover, relevant outside input should be welcomed as a means of providing diverse information and broadening the extent of collaboration.
In conclusion, a large body of research has examined the negative impacts of groupthink to organisation, focusing on group decision making. All of them are reviewed and examined meticulously from the Janis’s groupthink hypothesis, which claimed that groupthink is clearly seen as an enemy of creativity, bringing threats and major blunders (Simone, 2008). Indeed, groupthink leads to group decision making failures which come from the highly cohesive groups and the strong directive leadership (Flower, 1977; Leana, 1985; Hart, 1991). Developed from this point, before groupthink becomes a potential pitfall in group decision making, controlled attempts to understand its symptoms are not only desirable but highly necessary. If people can do that, the groupthink framework can be applied effectively to analyse defective decision processes and propose recommendations to avoid groupthink in work organisations. Therefore, it is necessary to have more research on the potential threats to effective group decision making caused by groupthink to get deeper insight into this phenomenon as well as improve the further ideas and continuous in-depth research for groups.
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