The fallacy of Groupthink

groupthink

As communicators, I feel that we should all be aware of the fallacies of groupthink. Thefreedictionary.com defines the term “groupthink” as “the act or practice of reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially when characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to prevailing points of view.” At first glance, it seems that only individuals, groups and societies who adhere closely to a collectivistic mindset are susceptible to groupthink. However, upon closer examination of this phenomenon, we will realise that groupthink affects all of us in one way or another. It’s just the degree that varies.

The issue of groupthink affects us both on an individual level and group level. More importantly, it affects organisations. It is not uncommon to see the fall of great organisations due to the result of groupthink. And it’s through the analysis of such organisations that I first came across this concept of groupthink, which is the consequences of -more often than not- the inflated ego of a specific individual. And this individual is usually someone who is in the leadership position.  Then again, you might ask how that will affect us at an individual and group level. Well, if we are in the team within an organisation, groupthink among the management level will affect all of us adversely as employees (since we often can’t have our say), yes? Even when we look at the social perspective of things such as among our peers, groupthink sometimes exists. For instance, I have a friend who has a group of like-minded friends that he used to hang out with. However, for most of their outings, it seems that they are always accommodating a specific member in their group because he is dominating. Their decision-making processes during their outings are always somewhat strained and stifled.

This brings us to the relations between dominance and groupthink. From my observation, it seems that the individuals who are responsible for creating the groupthink culture often possess a dominating personality.  And these individuals often have a tendency to dominate discussion sessions and/or conversations in a group, sometimes to the extent of intimidating his peers (whom he often thinks are inferior when compared to him). Do note the pronoun “he” is used for the sake of convenience and it could easily be a “she”. Gender is not a determining factor when it comes to groupthink.  Rather, character and personality are.

The issue of groupthink will be resolved easily if it is “issues-based” (read: the issues of groupthink are situational since groupthink is pegged to issues) but more often than not, it is “personality-based” (read: groupthink is caused by specific individuals due to their personalities when they create the culture of groupthink whenever they go).

Hence, the issue of groupthink is a more serious issue when it comes to teamwork than what some of us think. 

So, what can we do about it? This is a challenging situation. Most people will choose to comply and go along with the direction of the individuals who cause groupthink or they leave. There are few other options, and this is especially so for groups/organisations where other team members are mostly compliant. And of the two options, leaving the team/group is the better choice. Nothing saps one’s energy faster than being in a culture of submissiveness and compliance, and having to move towards a team’s goal which is different from one’s goal. If we choose to stay behind in such a situation, we are not contributing to the team’ effort (as apparently there’s a conflict of interests). At the same time, we may end up hindering the team’s progress. Thus, joining another team where our goals are aligned with the team’s is a much better option.

When this happens in the classroom, the students are able to inform the educators and something can be done about it, such as the educators advising the students creating groupthink to change their communicating/leading style while informing them of the benefits of alternative styles. However, if the individuals who are creating groupthink are part of senior management in the workplace (which is often the case), going against their decisions or ways of doing things is often not the best of options. Understanding bosses aside, it will probably result in severe recriminations. This is especially so if they have a huge, inflated ego.  Hence, handling groupthink in the workplace is always a challenge. Most people usually choose to go along. However, if they were to take a step back to think about the long-term issues, they will probably arrive at the conclusion that joining another team might be a better option.

Let’s not allow the issue of groupthink to be a hindrance in achieving our life goals.

Join a team that enables us to contribute and do our best. In time, our teams (which includes us) will shine.

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